The layered solid—which resembles graphene, a main component of pencil lead—represents a new family of two-dimensional materials called MXene, according to co-creator Babak Anasori of Drexel University in Philadelphia. The 2-D material has unique properties that could lead to advances in fields such as energy-storage technology, the researchers say.
"This image was chosen to represent a new frontier—that is only visible from the cliff—in the world of 2-D materials that will indubitably play an important role in the future," Anasori wrote in a statement.
Sponsored jointly by the journal Science and the National Science Foundation (NSF), the annual challenge was founded because "some of science's most powerful statements are not made in words," according to NSF. Overall, "the spirit of the competition is for communicating science, engineering, and technology for education and journalistic purposes."
Photograph courtesy B. Anasori, M. Naguib, Y. Gogotsi, and M. Barsoum, Drexel University
New Look at Mouse Eyes
A cross-section of a mouse eye reveals complex signs of metabolism—chemical changes in cells that release energy—in the eye's tissues. The picture won first place in the contest's photography category.
To create the image, Bryan William Jones "assigned" colors to three organic molecules found in mouse eyes: taurine (red), glutamine (green), and glutamate (blue).
The resulting range of hues comes from different molecular concentrations in the more than 70 classes of cell in the eye. For instance, the deep blue in the middle is optic fiber, while concentric rings of pink represent photoreceptor cells.
"Some of the muscles that move the eye can be seen on the outer, leftmost portion of the image as a golden color, while the sclera—which is normally the white part of your eye—is shown in green," Jones, of the University of Utah's Moran Eye Center, said via email.
Illustration courtesy E. Paul and Q. Paul, Echo Medical Media, and R. Gamble, UAB Insight
Magnified 800 times, the skin of a young cucumber features in a picture that earned an honorable mention in the photography category.
Since fruits and vegetables are most vulnerable to predators when they're immature, cucumber plants have developed two "powerful mechanisms to protect themselves against most herbivores," photographer Robert Rock Belliveau, a retired pathologist, said in a statement.
For one, young cucumbers grow sharp points on their trichomes (pictured), a type of plant appendage. These points are 40 times thinner than a sewing needle and can prick animals' mouths.
If that doesn't do the trick, the globular parts of the trichomes contain cucurbiticin, a toxic, bitter substance that can repulse or even kill invaders, according to Belliveau. Cucurbiticins are so bitter that people can taste their presence even when the substance is diluted to one part per billion.
Photograph courtesy Robert Rock Belliveau
Carbon nanotubes rise like futuristic skyscrapers in a picture that earned Joel Brehm, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development, an honorable mention in the illustration category.
Carbon nanotubes are cylinders of atoms that are only a few nanometers wide. Because the carbon-carbon bond is so strong, nanotubes have been proposed for use in a wide range of materials, from computer chips to space elevators.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Yongfeng Lu discovered laser-based production techniques that can precisely control the length, diameter, and properties of carbon nanotubes. This would allow nanotubes to be customized for specific uses.
"The 3-D illustration was developed to help Dr. Lu's team to visualize these nanoscale discoveries for diverse audiences," Brehm said in a statement.
Illustration courtesy Joel Brehm, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A screenshot captures the action as a gamer zooms in on a human hand in Powers of Minus Ten (POMT), an app that won an honorable mention in the Interactive Games category.
With the app, iPad, iPhone, PC, Mac, and web users can explore what the hand looks like down to the molecular level. The POMT app then lets users "review what they have discovered via timed mini-games," Laura Lynn Gonzalez of Green-Eye Visualization said in a statement.
Future versions of POMT will include plants, minerals, and water droplets, as well as allow even deeper magnification down to the subatomic level.