The cover of the journal Science for 22-Sep-06 features a beautiful artwork titled “Still Life: Five Glass Surfaces on a Tabletop” by graphic artist Luc Benard and mathematician Richard Palais, but the image is neither a photograph nor a Photoshop illustration. Instead, the five objects pictured are famous mathematical surfaces produced by the free Macintosh program 3D-XplorMath. The objects were then exported into Bryce, a 3D-rendering program, where Luc Benard gave them a glassy texture and placed them on a virtual glass-covered wooden tabletop.
The image is the first-place winner in the illustration category of the 2006 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, jointly sponsored by Science and the National Science Foundation.
Richard Palais, a well-known professor of mathematics at the University of California, Irvine, has worked on the mathematical visualization program 3D-XplorMath (previously known as 3D-Filmstrip) since 1997. Users can view a gallery of interesting mathematical objects in it, plus modify various parameters and viewing options for further experimentation. 3D-XplorMath runs in Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X as a Carbon application and is a free 12.3 MB download.