The 16 Winning Photos from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's 2018 Science Photography Competition

Beauty is kind of a given in nature photography — the lush trees, vibrant flowers, serene waterfalls. But science photography? That sounds decidedly less elegant. What the winning photos from a British science photography competition may lack in traditional visual appeal, they make up for in their ability to blow your mind.

Shots of Science

A majestic lion standing tall in a Saharan breeze is objectively captivating. But have you ever seen a robot taking a selfie? On Feb. 12, 2018, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council announced the winners of its annual national science photography competition. "Not only do we have really strong, attractive photographs, the stories behind them about the research and why it is being done are inspiring," judge Professor Dame Ann Dowling explained in a press release. "Much of this work will lead to innovations that transform lives and, in this Year of Engineering, it's marvellous to see these great examples of transformational research."

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is the main funding agency for this type of scientific research in the UK. According to Professor Tom Rodden, EPSRCs Deputy Chief Executive, "The images help the public engage with the research they fund, and I hope they will spark interest in science and engineering among people, young or older." Without further ado, below are the first, second, and third place photos from each of the competition's five categories: Eureka & Discovery, Equipment & Facilities, People & Skills, Innovation, and Weird & Wonderful.

Eureka & Discovery

1st: "In a kitchen far far away..." An image of the fluid instability patterns on top of a spherical soap bubble in a kitchen sink.
2nd: "Biodegradable microbowls could help fight stubbon cancers" Bowl-shaped particles like this, when paired with ultrasound, could help anti-tumor drugs penetrate cancers better than they ever have before.
3rd: "An in vitro 3D tissue engineered model of neuromuscular junction formation" This engineered model helps scientists study where nerves meet muscles in order to better understand disorders like ALS without resorting to animal models.

Equipment & Facilities

1st place, and Overall Winner: "Single Atom in Ion Trap" If you look closely, you can see a single strontium ion in the center of this ion trap, between the tips of the two "needle" electrodes. The tips of the needles are separated by 2.3 millimeters — roughly the width of a spaghetti noodle.
2nd: "Searching for Simulated Fukushima Fuel Debris Using an AVEXIS™ ROV" An AVEXIS™ Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) with an acoustic sonar, searching for simulated fuel debris at the bottom of a test pond.
3rd: "Molecular Beam Epitaxy Machine" This machine uses pure elements like gallium and arsenic to produce wafers, the bases used in electronics for the fabrication of circuits, which are traditionally made of silicon.

People & Skills

1st: "Spiderman on George IV Bridge" This study volunteer is wearing an EEG designed to measure his neural responses to different outdoor urban environments.
2nd: "Lady's Finger Crop" A local farmer holding the fruit from two Lady’s Finger (Okra) crops grown for the same length of time. The larger fruits on the left came from a "smart" automated irrigated crop and the fruit on the right came from a manually irrigated crop.
3rd: "Robo Selfie (1 of 2)" A newly designed, seven degree-of-freedom tactile manipulator taking a selfie. The hand incorporates 6 tactile sensors from the TacTip family of tactile sensors. This simple and relatable photograph demonstrates one of many objects that the manipulator is capable of holding.
3rd: "Robo Selfie (2 of 2)" This second photo is taken further away from the manipulator so that the robot arm, selfie stick and phone can all be seen


1st: "Microbubble for drug delivery" Microbubbles consisting of a gas core and a biocompatible shell are currently used to enhance the contrast of ultrasound diagnostic images. They are also being explored for therapeutic applications and to improve the delivery of drugs to diseased targets such as tumors.
2nd: "High throughput screening in search for serendipity" This type of screening is used to screen hundreds of polymers to investigate their material properties and how these can influence the ability of human stem cells to turn into bone cells. The cells pictured show different morphologies on different polymer surfaces — an indicator of their different biocompatibilities.
3rd: "Building blocks for a lighter future" A selection of lattice structures manufactured via selective laser melting, a type of additive manufacturing or 3D printing. These aluminum structures have exceptional strength and stiffness, allowing engineers to significantly reduce the weight of components.

Weird & Wonderful

1st: "Natures Nanosized Net for Capturing Colour" This is a nanoscale image of the tiny structures on a butterfly's wing that trap light and give off an array of dazzling colors.
2nd: "Placental Pop-Art" Placentas are fantastically diverse in shape and appearance, but each one of these examples in this montage successfully supported a new life.
3rd: "Just mud, or the future sustainable concrete" Because soil is so common, it has potential as a construction material to help house the world’s growing population in a sustainable manner.
Written by Joanie Faletto February 21, 2018