Biomedical artists blend beauty, science in NSF competition

Woodpecker; still from video animation

An animated video by Cari Jones, 2014 biomedical visualization graduate, explains why woodpeckers don’t suffer brain injury from vigorous pecking.


Woodpecker skulls and a carnivorous plant led two scholars from the College of Applied Health Sciences to the finals of the Vizzies, a National Science Foundation competition for “the most beautiful visualizations from the worlds of science and engineering.”

Wai-Man Chan, a student in the master’s program in biomedical visualization, used 3-D modeling to design a poster that illustrates how the common bladderwort, a flowering carnivorous plant, traps microscopic prey in its roots.

“Informative images of it are lacking, due in part to its small size and the fact that it lives underwater and underground,” Chan said.

Poster of bladderwort carniverous plant

Wai-Man Chan’s poster explains how a flowering carnivorous plant traps microscopic prey.

The poster could be used in a museum or high-school biology class, she suggested.

“The dramatic lighting against a murky background and the tension between predator and prey draws the viewer in to learn more.”

Cari Jones, a 2014 biomedical visualization graduate, entered an animation that shows how woodpeckers can peck wood so vigorously without injuring their brains. The force of the blows — up to 22 per second — would cause a concussion in a human. Jones explains features of the woodpecker’s skull and beak relevant to the design of biomaterials and protective headgear.

“Because of its implications in human health, narrowing the focus on concussion prevention was the obvious choice,” Jones said.

The animation was a finalist in last year’s Images of Research, a competition among UIC graduate students. Jones now runs Cari Jones Scientific Visuals, where she works with doctors, researchers and educators.

Science enthusiasts and others can vote online for Chan’s and Jones’ work. The National Science Foundation will announce the winners in February.



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