Stanford team’s ‘Hungry Starfish’ at intersection of science and art

The Hungry Starfish Larva photo
The Hungry Starfish Larva

The image is called “The Hungry Starfish Larva.” For applied physics doctoral candidate WILLIAM GILPIN and his fellow researchers it is an image at the intersection of science and art.

The image so impressed a panel at the National Science Foundation that the judges of the annual Vizzies Awards presented Gilpin’s group with the 2017 Vizzies for Photography award in the “Expert’s Choice” category.

The Vizzies are sponsored by the National Science Foundation in partnership with Popular Science. The NSF annually recognize visualizations of scientific phenomena in the form of photography, illustrations, posters, graphics, videos and apps.

“The most exciting areas of science often can’t be seen with the naked eye because the phenomena are too big or too small, too slow or too fast. That’s why we believe it’s worth honoring those who use novel techniques – or create exceptional examples of traditional ones – to present scientific ideas visually,” according to the Vizzies judges.

According to the reviewers, when Gilpin discovered that Stanford held classes at Hopkins Marine Station, he and his fellow researchers headed out, ready for a break from the lab.

What they ended up finding surprised them: starfish move using hundreds of elaborate, tube-like feet, and they also seem to control the waters around them.

When they headed back to the lab, they found very little research had been done on the way starfish move the water around them, so they set about finding – and illustrating – the answer themselves.

“ ‘Hungry Starfish’ is essentially an elaborate time lapse photo, created when all of the vortices the starfish makes were imaged and combined into one surprisingly delicate image of the starfish’s superpower,” according to the panel.

“Those vortices aren’t just for fun,” the judges remind viewers of the image. “They’re for softly pulling algae into a starfish larva’s tiny mouth.”