Photography: An unusual and surprising picture of science


The winning entries from the first SNSF Scientific Image Competition offer a view of science that is aesthetic, nuanced and complex. The jury has selected four winners and awarded eleven distinctions among the 497 submissions. All these images are available to the media.

Scientists responded to the call launched by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) last November. 239 candidates from all over the country submitted 437 images and 60 videos to the first SNSF Scientific Image Competition. An international jury, convened in Bern in February 2017, selected a prizewinner in each of the competition's four categories and awarded eleven distinctions.

The fifteen winning entries will be on display at an exhibition created by and for the Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography being held from 5 to 28 May 2017. "We were delighted to discover works whose meaning extends beyond the laboratory," said Hélène Joye-Cagnard, director of the exhibition. "They prompt artistic reflections that are by turns explicit, representational and occasionally humorous. The large, frieze-like structure that we designed honours the variety of the images submitted to the jury."

"The images submitted illustrate the fascinating diversity of scientific research," said jury president Pascal Hufschmid of the Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne. Produced in a wide variety of contexts, the selected works invite viewers to explore the stories they tell.

The prizewinning images as well all the other entries in the competition are available to the media. The idea behind the competition is to bring these images out of the laboratory and share them with a wider public. This not only makes some of the lesser-known aspects of science more visible, it also aids the public's understanding of how science is done in our day.

The winners

The photograph "Spatial impulse wave" won First Prize in the "Object of study" category. This image by Frederic Evers, a PhD candidate at ETH Zurich, "creates a subtle but powerful confusion between analogue and digital, and reminds us that appearances can be deceiving, especially in science," wrote the jury.

The winning image in the "Men and women of science" category was an "aesthetically powerful" and "disturbing" portrait of a biologist emerging from a cloud of nitrogen steam by Jürg Sigrist, a technician at EAWAG.

"Bloc froid", a minimalist photograph by Madlaina Boillat, a PhD candidate at the University of Geneva, won the "Locations and instruments" category. "I photographed very common laboratory objects to give them an unusual dimension and to highlight their texture," wrote Boillat.

A ball shattering against a tree won the "Video loop" category. The jury was impressed by the realness of this obviously dramatic film, which reminds us that science is also about solutions that rely on simple physics.

The jury also awarded eleven distinctions: a disturbing portrait of a glaciologist, an astonishing selfie taken atop the forest canopy, land art in South Africa, the poignant moment of diagnosis and another video relating a journey to Tajikistan. 

Youth in full force

"The choice of the jury reflects a very strong emphasis on art," said Matthias Egger, president of the National Research Council of the SNSF. "The fact that the microscopy images that typically win these types of competitions are nowhere to be seen in the final selection may come as a surprise. In fact, it highlights the visual richness and the scope of scientific practice today."

Eight of the fifteen winning images are the work of budding scientists who are pursuing their PhD. "It's a tribute to the commitment of young researchers and their desire to share their world and their passion," said Egger. Like art, quality research relies on creativity and a curious nature that compels people to leave their comfort zone. That's what I see in these entries and it's what delights me."

The winning images can be seen at the Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography from 5 to 28 May 2017 as well as online on the SNSF website. The prizes will be presented in Biel/Bienne on 10 May 2017.

Media information

Hi-res images are available for media use in the context of the competition:

  • Terms of use
  • Media are invited to the award ceremony, which will be held at the Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography on 10 May 2017 at 5 p.m. in the presence of the candidates and the president of the jury (register at by 8 May 2017).
  • The press conference and guided tour of the Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography, 4 May 2017 at 10.30 a.m., will include the SNSF Scientific Image Competition exhibition. Daniel Saraga from the SNSF will be present. (registration at
  • Public launch of the exhibition: 5 May 2017, 6.00 a.m.

Submitted images and videos:

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Daniel Saraga
Head of Science Communication
Swiss National Science Foundation
Wildhainweg 3
CH-3001 Bern
Tel. +41 31 308 23 76