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In photos: Photography contest showcases the beauty of science and engineering

A few of the strange and wonderful images from a national science photography competition. The overall winner was a spectacular swirling graphene ink in alcohol, which can be used to print electrical circuits onto paper. James Macleod, explained how the photograph came about: “We are working to create conductive inks for printing flexible electronics and are currently focused on optimising our recipe for use in different printing methods and for printing onto different surfaces. This was the first time we had used alcohol to create our ink and I was struck by how mesmerising it looked while mixing.” The competition was organized by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Graphene ink - 1st and Overall Winner, (Equipment and Facilities). The 'Wonder material' graphene is a sheet form of carbon that is a single atom thick. Among its many remarkable properties it is a superb conductor of electricity. However, it is difficult to mass-produce. One way to overcome this problem is to process powdered graphite in alcohol to produce conductive ink, which can be used in inkjet printers to print electrical circuits on paper. Alternatively, other chemicals can be added to it so that it can be used for screen printing on bendable plastic sheets to make components for flexible electronics. The ink in this photo is forced at high pressure through micrometre-scale capillaries made of diamond. This rips the layers apart and we end up with a smooth, conductive material in solution.

James Macleod/University of Cambridge

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Tiny 'golf ball' microparticles could be used to repair tissues - 1st, (Weird and Wonderful). These tiny biodegradable polymer particles resembling golf balls are among advanced biomaterials being developed to promote regeneration of damaged tissues’. A mere 0.04mm across, they form part of scaffolds which are being studied to determine if they support the growth of healthy new cells.

Dr Marta Alvarez Paino/University of Nottingham

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Spiralling light - 3rd, (Innovation). This photograph shows the spiral shaped structures of optical wires only hundreds of nanometres wide through which light travels into a silicon chip. In the spirals, the light travels through a distance of a metre in the space of a square millimetre. These structures are used to detect gases and chemicals via their interaction with light, and this critically requires long time spans for interactions.

Wei Cao/University of Southampton

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Pyramids in a desert - 2nd, (Innovation). Taken with an iPhone 4s through an optical microscope this image shows the variety of textures appearing on the surface of a silicon solar cell, not dissimilar to pyramids surrounded by a sea of dunes in a desert, but with the size of a human hair. Studying the different ways that the silicon surface can be engineered, combining both pyramids and dunes of a range of sizes and advance coatings, we aim to balance the need of complete light absorption in solar cells with the suppression of heat emission, a key factor for the realization of efficient hybrid photovoltaic-thermal energy systems.

Dr Diego Alonso-Álvarez/Imperial College London

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DNA of an optical fibre - 2nd, (Eureka and Discovery). The soft magenta glow of a hydrogen lamp highlights the fundamental building block of an optical fibre, a hollow glass preform that can be drawn down to create a fibre the width of a human hair. Unlike optical fibres used in connecting homes to the internet, this fibre can be used to trap a gas within its hollow core. The helical defect encircling the core was the result of a stress caused in the glass during the fabrication process.

Rob Francis-Jones/University of Bath

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Purifying polluted water using new solar active catalysts - 1st, (People and Skills).

Michael Coto/University of Cambridge

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3D printed robotic soft gripper lifts a light bulb - 1st (Eureka & Discovery). Soft robotic devices, such as this entirely 3D printed gripper, have major advantages when it comes to grasping objects which have complex geometry and are delicate. Instead of requiring sophisticated sensing and control, the soft nature of the gripper allows it to conform to the shape of the lightbulb and lift it gently when supplied with pressurised air.

Khaled Elgeneidy/Loughborough University

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Fastnet from above - 2nd, (People and Skills). It’s early December on the Fastnet rock off the coast of Ireland. The EPSRC-funded STORMLAMP field deployment team are obtaining visual data of the craggy rock and lighthouse. They will use this information to build up a picture of the behaviour of the lighthouse under severe wave impacts, backed up with wave and structural modelling on dry land. The photographer, James Bassitt, is just visible on the concrete helipad, flying the drone from which this shot was taken. Shortly afterwards sea spray caused the drone to fail. Inside the lighthouse the rest of the team, from Plymouth University and UCL (University College London), are testing the structural characteristics of the tower. Fog was the biggest hazard on this occasion and led to the team being stranded on the lighthouse an extra three nights.

James Bassitt/University of Exeter

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A bubbling plasma reactor for water treatment - 3rd, (Equipment and Facilities). The image shows a plasma reactor for waste water treatment, which was designed and made by our research group. It is hoped an improvement in waste water will stem the multiplication of superbugs which is one of the greatest issues facing humanity today. When ozone is bubbled into the water it kills the bacteria present and is able to break down other harmful chemicals such as pharmaceutical drugs and chemical waste from industry. Ozone is much more powerful than chlorine but doesn’t have the same damaging ecological impact on wildlife. The gas is produced from a low-power electrically-driven ozone generator directly below the membrane.

Alexander Wright/Loughborough University

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Not all wrinkles are unwanted - 3rd, (Eureka and Discovery). While the wrinkling, buckling and folding of the surfaces of thin films (such as aging skin and crumpling of the thin film device) are traditionally seen as faults, it can be utilised to improve multifunctional chip devices for use in biology, tissue engineering and chemical engineering. This image shows formations on the surface of a thin elastic surface which have been heavily compressed as part of the research.

Dr Ben Xu and Mr Ding Wang/Northumbria University

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Highland cattle solar cells (Ancient power) - 2nd, Weird and Wonderful. This image shows a side view of a group of solar cells, and was taken after dopant was driven into the cells to form an internal electrical field. The sample was damaged while it was being prepared for inspection, uncovering a cross-section of inverted pyramids with little horns at the top, mimicking the heads of highland cattle.

Dr Lourdes Ferre Llin/University of Glasgow

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Starry ceiling - 3rd, (Weird and Wonderful). This photo was taken in a black room without windows to calibrate the equipment for research being conducted to quantify the daylight access in school buildings. The juxtaposition of multiple images capturing the rectangular light source allowed the researchers to quantify the lens's distortion effect. However, the team forgot to turn the room's lights off, leading to the 'starry ceiling' effect.

Eleanora Brembilla/Loughborough University

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iCub and Eve - 3rd, (People and Skills). Playing with toys supports the development of children’s cognitive skills, allowing them to acquire an understanding about objects and ways to manipulate them. In this picture, Eve and the iCub robot sit at a table full of colourful toys. Soon enough, they both turn them into meaningful stacks. Finishing earlier than iCub, Eve celebrates her achievement by putting a big smile on her face. The research aims to build models for iCub to learn about its environment by interacting with it, inspired by infant psychology and play behaviours.

Dr Patricia Shaw/Aberystwyth University

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Yin and Yang - 2nd, (Equipment and Facilities). This scanning electron microscope image shows the surface of a silicon chip, which has been patterned to create a wire that can guide infrared light. In this image, one metre of ultra-thin optical wire, just one millionth of a metre wide (seen as a continuous white line in the image), is made into a spiral and wrapped into an area the size of a square millimetre. This chip can be used as a highly sensitive chemical sensor: a liquid droplet of a chemical placed on its surface will absorb some colours of light passing through the wire, from which the chemical can be identified.

Dr Milos Nedeljkovic/University of Southampton

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