Alps seen from an airplane

Competition recognizes effective visualizations from science and engineering

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (03/30/17) — A geosciences outreach app developed by University of Minnesota researchers is a winner of the 15th Annual Vizzies, a national competition sponsored by Popular Science magazine and the National Science Foundation (NSF) celebrating the use of visual media to artfully and clearly communicate scientific data and research.

The competition recognizes the best photographs, videos, illustrations, interactive apps, and posters and graphics produced by academic researchers, artists or hobbyists.

The Flyover Country app won the Experts Choice Award in the Interactive Category. Funded by the National Science Foundation, researchers in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Earth Sciences developed the offline mobile app for geoscience outreach and data discovery. The free app uses GPS signals to show people the topography of the land beneath them as well as special features, like sites where dinosaur fossils are embedded in the soil.

Flyover Country is not limited to the window seat of airplanes. It is also ideal for road trips, hiking, and other outdoor activities including field trips and geologic field work. Offline geologic maps and interactive points of interest reveal the locations of fossils and georeferenced Wikipedia articles visible from your road trip or hiking trail vista.

Shane Loeffler started working on the app when he realized his work in the geosciences provided him with a unique (and entertaining) view on flying.

“I was flying over the San Rafael Swell,” Loeffler said. “I could look down, and I had been down there hitting those rocks with hammers, and now I’m above, reading a Wikipedia article [about the features below].”

Loeffler, who is working with a small team to further develop the app, said it can be used to enhance hiking and camping road trips, and other more Earth-bound activities as well. Other members of the team include Amy Myrbo, Sijia Ai, Reed McEwan, Alex Morrison.

“Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, and for everyone who took the time to create Vizzies entries,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “Scientific visualizations have an exceptional ability to explain, spark interest and inspire.”

“Visual representations are a crucial way to communicate scientific ideas to the public,” said Popular Science online director Amy Schellenbaum. “They are a great way to help a larger group of people understand the amazing occurrences taking place right under our noses every day.”

A team of experts at NSF and Popular Science pared hundreds of submissions down to 50 finalists; from those 50, a panel of outside experts picked five Expert’s Choice winners. Popular Science readers chose five People’s Choice winners.

The full list of Vizzie honorees, including their visualizations, is available at the NSF winners page or on Popular Science’s site.

Download the free Flyover Country app.

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Rhonda Zurn, College of Science and Engineering,, 612-626-7959

Lacey Nygard, University News Service,, 612-625-0552