It only takes some YouTubers being in the right place at the right time to prove how ridiculously far owls can rotate their heads — up to 270 degrees in either direction, in fact. But it took a team of neurological imaging experts and medical illustrators to figure out both how this flexibility feat is anatomically possible and how to effectively illustrate it.
The Johns Hopkins University team took first place in the poster and graphics portion of the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge competition, which was sponsored by Science magazine and the National Science Foundation. Led by medical illustrator Fabian de Kok-Mercado, now at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the team used angiography, X-ray imaging, and CT scans to study the bone structure and vasculature of the heads and necks of snowy, barred, and great-horned owls.
Their study shows that owls’ transverse foramina–the holes in the vertebrae that allow arteries to line the spine–are much larger than the blood vessels, allowing more wiggle room for twisting and turning. And they found blood-pooling mechanisms and backup arteries that help direct blood to the brain when the main arteries are pinched in the turning process.
The People’s Choice award in the same posters and graphics portion of the competition goes to designers who are likely SimCity fans. Or perhaps it was the voters who are fans of the city-building video game series? We digress. A team from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School and Plymouth University designed an entire town to represent possible routes to sustainable pharmaceutical use:
The focal point is the river, with the city’s pharmaceutical companies, health providers, and residents all part of the twisted network where pharmaceuticals enter and end up. The poster is meant as a tool for policymakers to develop means of making the cycle more sustainable. And it’s already being used as such, according to team member and graphic designer Will Stahl-Timmins, who told Science magazine that the poster was covered in sticky notes by the end of a recent meeting with scientists and legislators.
But these are just a few of the awardees that stood out to Newscripts. Check out all the winners of the visualization challenge–including those for illustrations, games and apps, and video categories–here.
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