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Stanford team’s image of starfish larva wins top honor

photography_ec_vizzies15anniv.photo-ec-ahungrystarfishA wildlife photographer once told me that that for every 1,000 photos he takes, he usually gets about three good images. That, he said, is how tough it is to take a great photo of large, lazy lions and hippopotamuses in Africa.

Now imagine how hard it is to take a good photo of something you can't see as it makes movements your naked eye can't detect.

Photographers that capture such images truly are in class of their own. In recognition of these artistic efforts, the National Science Foundation and Popular Science teamed up to award the best images, videos and visualizations in science and engineering their "due glory" (as they put it) and cash prizes in a contest called The Vizzies.

This year, William Gilpin, a PhD student in applied physics; postdoctoral scholar Vivek Prakash, PhD, and bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD, (no relation to Vivek) took top honors in The Vizzies, winning Experts' Choice in the photography category.

Their prize winning image, "A Hungry Starfish Larva," is actually many images combined in an intricate time-lapse photo. The whorls and swirls you see in the image shown above are vortices made by a starfish larva as it funnels food towards its tiny mouth.

“Our first eureka moment came when we saw the complex vortices flowing around these animals,” Vivek Prakash said in a Stanford news story detailing why and how the image was made. “This was beautiful, unexpected and got all of us hooked. We wanted to find out how and why these animals made these complex flows.”

The team discovered that "nature equips these larvae to stir the water in such a way as to create vortices that serve two evolutionary purposes: moving the organisms along while simultaneously bringing food close enough to grab,” Manu Prakash explained.

If you're curious to see what starfish larvae look like in action (and who isn't?) you can watch this video.

Previously: Stanford bioengineers develop a 20-cent, hand-powered blood centrifugeStanford image takes big honors at 2015 NikonSmall World Photomicrography Competition and Luminous mouse brain among photomicrography competition winners
Photo by William Gilpin, Vivek Prakash and Manu Prakash

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