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2010 Visualization Challenge Winners Announced: As Always, Chemists Rule

First chemists took home top prize in the Dance Your Ph.D. contest late last year. Now they’ve won first place in photography for an image submitted to the 2010 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge. The results of the competition, sponsored by Science magazine and the National Science Foundation, were announced this afternoon and can be found here.

Image is 600 by 600 nm. Credit: Science

And to top it all off, the winning photo graces the front cover of today’s issue of Science. The image, entitled “Rough Waters,” is an atomic force micrograph submitted by Seth B. Darling of Argonne National Laboratory and Steven J. Sibener of the University of Chicago. The choppy surface contains anything but water, however.

Darling tells Newscripts that the false-color AFM image is of a gold surface coated with a mixed self-assembled monolayer. The film is formed by deposition of a single disulfide molecule (synthesized by Dong-Chan Lee and Luping Yu of the U of Chicago) that splits at the sulfur-sulfur bond upon adsorption. “The advantage of that approach is that you start with a perfectly mixed monolayer with exactly 50-50 composition,” Darling says.

After the initial chemisorption, the two halves of the molecule—one is a 10-carbon alkane chain and the other is a 10-carbon partially fluorinated alkane chain—phase separate on the surface. The ripples were captured during the early stages of separation and result from a mere 0.2 nm difference in the height of the two species (they have different tilt angles, Darling says). “The larger scale terraces in the image are due to atomic steps in the underlying gold surface,” Darling explains.

When asked whether he knew that he had an award-winning image on his hands, Darling says that a staff member at Argonne actually “twisted my arm a bit” to submit it to the contest. “She was generous enough not to say, ‘I told you so’ when we heard the good news,” he adds.

Honorable mentions in the photography category include “Trichomes (hairs) on the Seed of the Common Tomato” and “Centipede Millirobot.” Awards were also made to scientists in the categories of illustrations, informational graphics, and noninteractive media.

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