These photos may look like just beautiful abstract pieces of art but there's much more to each one then you think.

Princeton University's annual 'Art of Science' photo competition showcases the best in scientific photography and this year's entrants are pretty special.

This year's offerings included a representation of the Earth's winds, the ovary of a fruit fly and the world as seen by as photon.

Click through the slideshow for the story behind each one...

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  • Jury First Place

    East-West, West-East Martin Jucker Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences <blockquote>The winds around our globe are preferentially directed from West to East, or East to West, and much less so in the North-South directions. As a result, atmospheric phenomena can travel around the globe, exchanging information even from remote places of the Earth easily. We see in the picture surfaces of constant wind around Earth, averaged over time. Blue is East-to-West, red West-to-East directed wind.</blockquote>

  • Jury Second Place

    Crushed Birch Michael Kosk '16 Woodrow Wilson School <blockquote>The dense cellular structure of wood is what protects it, in part, from microbes breaking apart cellulose and causing rot. In my materials science course we broke apart the cellular structure of birch by resorting to mechanical strength, crushing it along a specific direction and buckling the cellulose pathways that would normally be responsible for the distribution of water and nutrients to the rest of the tree.</blockquote>

  • Jury Third Place

    Web Of Art And Science Paul Csogi (webmaster) and Chris Cane (webmaster) Lewis Center for the Arts and and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory <blockquote>We have placed the home pages of our respective websites into an HTML parser and graphical interface. These two embroidery-like figures visually give us an idea of the similarities and differences of a website devoted to science and one devoted the the arts. The Princeton Plasma Physics Lab site is represented at top left. Lewis Center for the Arts site is at lower right. Each color represents the following.</blockquote>

  • People's First Place

    Messenger Meshwork Shawn C. Little (postdoc), Kristina S. Sinsimer (postdoc), Elizabeth R. Gavis (faculty), and Eric F. Wieschaus (faculty) Department of Molecular Biology <blockquote>The fruit fly ovary consists of about 100 egg chambers. Each chamber contains 15 "nurse cells." These surround the oocyte, or egg cell, which ultimately will develop into a baby fruit fly. The nurse cells synthesize RNA molecules that are ultimately deposited into the oocyte. Here we see four nurse cells. Each red or green dot is an individual RNA molecule, which is produced from DNA (shown in blue). The RNA molecules intermingle on a threadlike network that allows them to move from one nurse cell to another and then into the developing egg (which we don't see in this image).</blockquote>

  • People's Second Place

    Bridging The Gap Jason Wexler (graduate student) and Howard A. Stone (faculty) Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering <blockquote>When drops of liquid are trapped in a thin gap between two solids, a strong negative pressure develops inside the drops. If the solids are flexible, this pressure deforms the solids to close the gap. In our experiment the solids are transparent, which allows us to image the drops from above. Alternating dark and light lines represent lines of constant gap height, much like the lines on a topological map. Â These lines are caused by light interference, which is the phenomenon responsible for the beautiful rainbow pattern in an oil slick. The blue areas denote the extent of the drops. Since the drops pull the gap closed, the areas of minimum gap height (i.e. maximum deformation) are inside the drops, at the center of the concentric rings.</blockquote>

  • People's Third Place

    Medusa Jamie Barr (graduate student) and Cliff Brangwynne (faculty) Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Molecular Biology <blockquote>This bright clump of worms resembles the wild snakes that surrounded the head of the mythological sea monster Medusa. But unlike Medusa's snakes, these worms became sticky and connected during an experiment designed to understand how molecules determine cell and organism size. C. elegans worms have a transparent nature that makes them ideal for fluorescence microscopy. This single image captures all levels of the central dogma of biology: DNA (stained in blue) and pre-processed ribosomal RNA (stained in red), while the worms are a transgenic line with fib1::gfp protein (in green).</blockquote>

  • Light Eddies

    Mitchell A. Nahmias (graduate student) and Paul R. Prucnal (faculty) <blockquote>Fiber optic networks have transformed global communications by moving digital bits of information around the planet at the speed of light. By combining lasers with artificial neural networks, it may one day be possible to create high-speed processors that react to incoming data far faster than current computers could ever handle. Our brains are composed of billions of individual cells called neurons, which communicate along millions of billions of channels with electrochemical signals. This computer model visualizes a laser that behaves like a neuron by plotting a so-called "phase space." Notice that the lines swirl inwards like a whirlpool to converge at stable equilibrium points, indicating that the laser will stabilize over time. Studying these trajectories helps us understand how our devices emit and receive pulses of light that mimic the way in which neurons communicate.</blockquote>

  • Photon's Eye View

    Emily Grace (graduate student), Christine Pappas (graduate student), Benjamin Schmitt (University of Pennsylvania), Laura Newburgh (postdoc) Department of Physics <blockquote>The Universe exploded into being 14 billion years ago and remnant light from this explosion is still visible today. Our group measures this light at a site 17,000 feet high in the Atacama Desert in Chile. We use special "detectors" developed in a collaboration between Princeton and other institutions. These detectors use antennas to capture the non-visible wavelengths of light focused by our 6 meter telescope. This photograph looks down into feedhorns, small corrugated structures that allow particles of light to funnel toward the antennas. The antennas are tiny dark triangles suspended upon a thin membrane on a silicon detector wafer that attaches to the base of each feedhorn. The membrane is thin enough that you can see the gold-plated reflective wafer behind the antennas. Light from the camera is reflecting off the gold-plated wafer, casting a golden gleam.</blockquote>

  • Baby Mouse

    Celeste Nelson (faculty) and Joe Tien (visiting faculty) Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering <blockquote>"We are linked by blood," writes Joyce Carol Oates, "and blood is memory without language." The network of blood vessels known as the vascular system connects all tissues and organs. Confocal imaging gives us the opportunity to view the vascular system by illuminating the whole body with fluorescent light and providing a translucent image of the subject. This mosaic of different confocal images gives us an entire picture of a mouse embryo. Here the vascular system, rather than appearing in a familiar blood-red, is represent by the color green. The blue color represents the DNA that will direct the embryo's growth.</blockquote>

  • Maze Dweller

    Chhaya Werner '14 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology That sweet little face peering out of a coral labyrinth is that of a a goby fish. A goby fish is dependent on coral for its home, and in turn will often clean algae that would otherwise smother the coral. I took this photo in the course of field research for the Coral Reefs lab course in Panama (EEB 346) for a project on the ecology of coral reefs, focusing on interactions between corals, algae, and sea urchins.

  • C. Instagram

    Meredith Wright '13 Department of Molecular Biology (Murphy Lab) <blockquote>Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) worms are stored on agar plates covered with a lawn of E. coli bacteria as their food source. Sometimes when the C. elegans have consumed all of the bacteria, they begin to clump together as seen in this image. I found the pattern on this plate particularly lovely, and was able to capture it with my cell phone by holding the lens of my phone's camera up to the microscope eyepiece. I've since shared the photo on social networking sites and have had friends who've never been interested in biology ask me more about my work because of this photo. To me, this image represents the simple pleasure of finding something beautiful when you don't expect to, and it shows how easy it is to connect science with new audiences by simply clicking 'share.'</blockquote>

  • Tropical Sunset

    Anna Hiszpanski (graduate student) and Yueh-Lin Loo (faculty) Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering <blockquote>When attempting to synthesize a desired chemical, some starting materials may not react as anticipated or may produce undesired byproducts. Hence, chemists must typically perform separations to isolate the desired product from other chemicals in the reaction mixture. If the desired products and the undesirable byproducts have similar solubilities, it may be necessary to perform a chromatographic separation. In such a case, the reaction solution is passed through a packed column of small silica beads. Each component of the solution will move at a different speed through the column, isolating the desired product. If the components in the mixture absorb at different wavelengths in the visible light spectrum, chromatographic separation can produce colorful gradients, as seen in the image. Here we were synthesizing a semiconducting molecule called hexabenzocoronene for use in organic electronic applications.</blockquote>

  • Blossoming Flame

    Bo Jiang (visiting student) and Bret Windom (postdoc) Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering <blockquote>This series of eleven flames demonstrates the transition that occurs in a turbulent flame as a result of low temperature oxidation of the reactants prior to introduction into the high temperature flame. Scanning left to right, the degree of pre-flame reactant oxidation is increased by increasing the reactant temperature and/or heated residence time. This transition, evident by the increasing redness of the flames, is due to changes in the flame chemistry resulting in new emission profiles and has a dramatic effect on the flame properties, including burning rates, emissions, and turbulent/combustion interactions and flame regimes. Turbulent combustion provides a connection between complex fluid dynamics, combustion physics, and combustion chemistry and links fundamental combustion research to practical engineering applications.</blockquote>