To the uninitiated, James Colovos’ award-winning research image may look like an abstract illustration of a tidal wave or perhaps a computer-generated beast from a modern-day horror movie.

Instead, this bizarre swirl of black-and-white pixelated lines and dots is in fact a scientific representation of what happens when a tungsten plate impacts a porous rock at 10 times the speed of sound.

Colovos’ image is more than just science — it’s also art. This research image was named the Best in Show at this year’s Research as Art Contest, a competition of image and videos produced from scientific research.

Colovos, a University of Utah mechanical engineering graduate student, won $100, a certificate, and “praises from my professor, which is the most important,” he says.

Colovos created the simulation of the plate striking the rock — which took just 200 microseconds to occur — during his work on simulation software that models what happens when things such as explosives impact soil and rock. It took a cluster of computers at the U’s Center for High Performance Computing about a day to create the image. Colovos’ research could benefit how explosives are made for oil and gas exploration or used in simulations of landslides and earthquakes to determine how the ground is altered.

“I look at these kinds of simulations all day, and you can take for granted the results that you have in front of you,” Colovos says. “When I saw the image, I stopped and made sure I captured it the way I wanted to. I didn’t want to forget it as art.”

The contest was sponsored by The HSC Cell Imaging Core, Huntsman Cancer Institute and The Leonardo Museum of Salt Lake City.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah is committed to providing students with broad-based, rigorous and progressive education. By combining state-of-the-art facilities with renowned faculty, the department provides an education that gives students the necessary skills to become the next generation of innovators.