Imaging science

Winning images

Spectacular photographs, provocative videos and intimate stories shed new light on contemporary research. The jury for this year’s SNSF Scientific Image Competition has awarded four first prizes and seven distinctions.

The fourth SNSF Scientific Image Competition has been a great success. “These stunning images offer a view of science that is very different from the usual clichés of white coats, antiseptic laboratories and faceless researchers”, says Nadine Wietlisbach, director of Fotomuseum Winterthur and chair of the jury for the competition.

“The entries illustrate the richness of the world of research”, says Matthias Egger, president of the National Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). “They highlight less familiar but important aspects of science such as aesthetics, subjectivity and the personality of the researchers.”

Astonishing, sometimes puzzling works

First prize in the “Object of study” category went to a photograph of an elephant’s foot pad. Taken by Paulin Wendler, a PhD student at the University of Zurich, the photo captivated the jury with its dazzling view, which “forces viewers to slow down” as well as the sophistication of its intricate lines, “which contrast with the image usually associated with the lumbering, heavy mammal”.

The prize in the “Women and men of science” category went to a portrait by Kaan Mika, a PhD student at the University of Lausanne, which is a “clear challenge to the usual representation of scientists in their lab”.

Anika König, a lecturer at the University of Lucerne, won the “Locations and instruments” category for her research on surrogate mothers in Ukraine. “The strength of the picture lies in the obvious absence of its object. It reveals the invisibility of surrogate mothers in a society by not showing them”, said the jury.
A short film sequence of medical images featuring a Lego brick, directed by Peter von Niederhäusern, a PhD student at the University of Basel, captured the “Video loop” category. The video “puzzles the viewers”, said the jury, “challenging their sense of orientation”. It is a “vivid illustration that state-of-the-art research can proceed through a joyful bricolage with serendipity and simplicity”.

The jury also awarded seven distinctions among the more than 250 works submitted this year.

Picturing and talking about science

“I enjoy sharing the beauty of science and making it accessible to the public through photography”, says winner Kaan Mika, a biologist and self-taught photographer. “I started doing portraits of my colleagues, not only to highlight the human aspect of research but also to give them a chance to explain what they’re actually doing in the lab.”

All the entries to the competition are available in an online gallery on Flickr. They can be used for non-commercial purposes and by the media provided the author is attributed (Creative Commons licence). The works in the “Video loop” category are also being showcased by Parisian DJ AamourOcean, who has set them to music as part of the Météo Science Performance project produced by Witold Langlois.
The images will be on display at the Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography in 2021, as the 2020 edition has been postponed due to the efforts to combat the coronavirus. In the meantime, the prizewinning works will be exhibited by the Eye on Science association at the Zurich Film Festival from 24 September to 4 October 2020. The award ceremony will also be held there.


The jury

The jury is chaired by Nadine Wietlisbach, director of Fotomuseum Winterthur (Switzerland). The other members are

  • Emmanuel Ferrand, mathematician, Sorbonne University (France)
  • Jens Hauser, curator (Denmark)
  • Irène Hediger, director, artists-in-labs program, Zurich University of the Arts (Switzerland)
  • Dominique Peysson, artist, Ecole nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (France)
  • Gilles Steinmann, director of photography, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland)