SNSF Scientific Image Competition
Get your cameras! Give Swiss research a face
The SNSF Scientific Image Competition encourages researchers working in Switzerland to present their works to the public and the media. Photographs, images and videos will be rated in terms of their aesthetic quality and their ability to inspire and amaze, to convey or illustrate knowledge, to tell a human story or to let us discover a new universe.
All the entries to the competition (more than 2300 to date) are available in our online gallery on Flickr.
The jury has awarded four first prizes and ten distinctions out of the 334 submitted entries.
Category 1 – Object of study
Section of a library, by Patrick Fleming and Petronella Mill
Research fellow and research associate, Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich
This image shows a vertical section through a 3D model of the Stockholm Public Library (1924-28, 1931-32). As the library undergoes a significant period of renovation and maintenance between 2020 and 2025, a research project is laser scanning the building and examining its historical construction, acoustics and lighting. After completing over 1200 laser scans all over the library, and also around it, the resultant point cloud totals just over 15 billion points. It can yield highly accurate plans, drawings and novel visualisations – like the section image shown here, allowing scientists to recover lost knowledge and help preserve the library’s architectural heritage. This work represents the most detailed and comprehensive record ever produced of Erik Gunnar Asplund’s landmark work of twentieth-century architecture.
Comment by the jury │ With its astounding level of detail, this image opens up new perspectives, projecting us ahead of time into the prophesied metaverse. It demonstrates the value of creation, both architectural and scientific, paving new avenues in science and cultural visualisation.
Category 2 – Women and men of science
Forensic research, naturally, by Lara Indra
PhD student, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern
Forensic anthropologists estimate the time since death by studying bones and the decomposition of cadavers. This very complex process varies according to the environment and the intrinsic properties of the body, making this assessment difficult. I am sampling here a decomposed pig cadaver during an outdoor forensic experiment. The aim of the experiment was to establish a baseline including decomposition rate and pattern, entomology, soil chemistry and microbiology. This knowledge will inform decomposition research in forests and subsequently support time-since-death estimations in forensic cases. The image was taken by a wildlife camera, the reason for the information bar at the bottom.
Comment by the jury │ Taken by a wildlife automatic camera, the photograph provides an authentic and uncontrived glimpse of fieldwork in a fascinating research domain, and reminds us that science also means physical activity outside the sterile atmosphere of a lab.
Category 3 – Locations and instruments
Floating saucer, by Julie Fahy
PhD student, Haute école du paysage, d'ingénierie et d'architecture, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland
Ponds host a rich biodiversity, yet they have been largely neglected by researchers and policy-makers. While they have the potential to deliver numerous ecosystem services, there is still a lot we don’t know about their functioning and the role they play in the carbon cycle. Wetlands trap carbon from the atmosphere but also release greenhouse gases, especially in the form of methane and CO2 bubbles escaping from the sediments. Our alien-looking chamber dubbed “floating saucer” traps the pond’s greenhouse gas emissions as they reach the surface so that we can collect and analyse them.
Comment by the jury │ With good framing and interesting reflections on the water surface, the picture is reminiscent of renaissance painting. It offers a very honest and authentic documentation of fieldwork with a slightly humorous take. It reminds us that research – even on important issues such as climate change – feeds on ingenuity and benefits from low-key, possibly less–than-perfect makeshift devices. As the title of the work suggests, research does not have to be rocket science.
Category 4 – Video loops
Growing neurons (in pink and green) are attracted towards specific target cells in their environment (cyan). This video visualises one of the basic principles of neural circuits formation, in which neuronal extensions are guided towards specific targets to establish a functional nervous system. Located at the ventral midline of the central nervous system, the guidepost cells attract commissural axons towards the contralateral side of the nervous system. This video shows a time-lapse of images taken by a confocal microscope during a ten-hour period.
Comment by the jury │ A beautiful visualisation of the complexity of dynamical biology showing how neurons interact not only with each other but also with other kinds of cells, a phenomenon that is often forgotten. It is testimony to the magic of science that it can uncover what might be happening inside the viewer’s own head.
About the competition
The competition is held annually. An international jury will meet at the beginning of the year and award a CHF 1,000 prize in each category for the winning entry, as well as CHF 250 for each distinction. The award-winning works are announced in April or May, displayed in an exhibition at the Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography and made available to the public and the media, as well as to scientific institutions.
The competition has multiple aims: to highlight the growing role of images in scientific research, to reveal how scientific work is conducted and to give a face to the researchers conducting it. The competition also aims to encourage the media to use more images in their science coverage and make them accessible to the public through exhibitions.
We encourage researchers to pick up their camera and document the – often unusual – environment in which they work, and to give their colleagues a face.
The jury includes international experts in the fields of photography, museums, media and research from around the world.
- Lars Lindemann, head of photography at Geo (Germany)
Award ceremony, exhibition and online galleries
The award ceremony will take place in May 2022 during the Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography, where a selection of the works will be exhibited.
The images are presented at other exhibitions as well as online:
All scientists working at a research institution in Switzerland are eligible to participate The works must have been produced less than 12 months before the deadline for submitting entries.
Researchers who wish to take part in the competition must fill in the online form.
Categories of the competition
Each participant may submit from 1 to 5 entries, in one or more of the following categories:
1) Object of study (image)
From the microcosm to the macrocosm, images of the research object captured by scientists using a camera or generated by a computer.
2) Women and men of science (photographs)
Photographs of research in practice, presented by and featuring those conducting it.
3) Places and tools
Photographs of the surroundings in which scientists take measurements, generate data and make discoveries, and of the instruments they use while doing so.
4) Video loop
Chronophotography, video or animated gif, documenting some aspects of categories 1 to 3.
Digital image file obtained from a camera. Format: JPEG or TIFF. Maximum size: 100 MB. Minimum resolution: 2000 x 3000 pixels (16.9 x 25.4 cm to 300 dpi). Digital touching up permitted.
Digital image file taken from a camera or computer-generated from data obtained through observation or computer simulation (excluding explanatory infographics). Others: see "Photographs", above.
Digital video file taken from a camera or computer-generated from data obtained through observation or computer simulation (excluding explanatory infographics). Formats: GIF, AVI, MP4 (edited in a loop). Maximum size: 300 MB. Duration: from 3 to 15 seconds. Minimum resolution: 480 x 720 pixels (DVD resolution). Digital touching up permitted.
The participants retain their copyright. They authorise the publication of the submitted images under a CC-BY-NC-ND licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/): unaltered images can be used freely for non-commercial purposes as long as they are credited as the creator of the image.
People’s prize 2017-2021
In March 2021, the public voted for its favourites from among 50 photographs and 15 videos. The preselection had been made in February 2021 by 20 photography students of Arts College Bern/Biel.
A view from inside the neocortical forest (2017)
Nicolas Antille (EPFL)
Jump! (2021) - Video
Daniel Huber (University of Geneva)
Winners 2017 - 2021
Many of the images are presented in an online gallery. Follow the images from the competition on Twitter using the hashtag #SwissScienceImage.