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Communicating science through visualization

For the next big breakthroughs, scientists are thinking small — really small. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, US, are applying nanotechnology to develop new uses for molybdenum disulfide, currently used as a lubricant and in petroleum refining. The illustration shows a close-up view of multilayered molybdenum disulfide. To the left is the structure of the compound, and to the far right a compressed version. Scientists use visualizations at the molecular scale shown here to engineer new materials. In this case, the researchers found molybdenum disulfide has high conductivity, useful for new transistors in more powerful computers and cell phones. Image courtesy Texas Advanced Computing Center.

Some of science's most powerful statements depend not on words, but insightful images. From DaVinci's Vitruvian Man to Rosalind Franklin's X-rays of DNA, science visualization has a long and illustrious history: To illustrate is to enlighten. Illustrations provide the most immediate and influential connection between scientists and other citizens, and the best hope for nurturing popular interest — a necessity for public understanding of research developments.

The US National Science Foundation and Popular Scienceare co-sponsors of the long-running Visualization Challenge, now called The Vizzies. The finalists are in and voting is open! Results will be announced in March 2015.


- Amber Harmon

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