Illustration wins international recognition

jbrehm2, February 2, 2012 | View original publication

Illustration wins international recognition

A scientific illustration of UNL nanotechnology research has won an award in the International Science and Engineering Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the journal Science.

Joel Brehm, graphic and web designer for the Office of Research and Economic Development, won honorable mention in the illustration category for his 3-D image of variable diameter carbon nanotubes. Brehm designed the illustration to help visualize research by Yongfeng Lu, Lott University Professor of Electrical Engineering, and his team.

Winning entries in the ninth annual International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge appear in the Feb. 3 issue of Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Illustrators, photographers, computer programmers and designers from around the world submitted visualizations to the competition designed to celebrate and encourage the visual communication of science for education and journalistic purposes. The contest drew 212 entries from 33 countries, representing every continent except Antarctica. Twenty-three winners were named in five categories.

Lu’s team in UNL’s Laser-Assisted Nano Engineering Lab uses lasers to develop new, cost-effective techniques for making carbon nanostructures. They discovered how to control the diameter of carbon nanotubes from one end to the other. The team’s technique precisely varies the diameter and properties of these tubes. Lu envisions customizing variable-diameter nanotubes for specific uses.

Brehm collaborated with the team to create the image to help explain this nanoscale discovery, which is invisible to the naked eye. The team has used the illustration in journal papers, proposals, conference presentations and posters.

Lu praised Brehm’s skills and his interest in science and engineering.

“Joel has a special talent to turn complicated scientific ideas into easy-to-understand artwork,” Lu said. “He can appreciate scientific ideas very quickly and visualize them in a special way.”

Brehm’s illustrations are so realistic that even experts in the field have asked whether they are illustrations or actual pictures, he added.

Brehm said he likes the challenge of making the invisible visible. He enjoyed working with Lu and his team to accurately portray their work.

“It’s  extremely cool to get to work with some of the best research in the nation, and Dr. Lu’s research is definitely in that category,” Brehm said. “I love that when people see this groundbreaking research, they are basically looking at what I imagine it looks like. So in a way, I have an impact on how people view the research, which I find very rewarding, especially considering what the actual research could mean to the world someday.”

Winning entries can be viewed on the NSF website and the Science website,, which includes an interview with Brehm and the other winners.

This is the second year that Brehm’s work has been recognized in this contest. Another of his illustrations was a finalist last year.