Life is filled with unexpected moments of beauty, something those on a lab bench know just as well as any poet. The third annual Science Is Beautiful competition at Charles University in Prague allowed students and faculty to share these moments through photographs, digital imagery and illustration.

"What is beautiful about science?" asked Bohuslav Gaš, dean of the university's Faculty of Science, which organized the competition, during his introductory speech at the exhibition of winning entries. "Two things: the enchantment in the discovery of the unknown and the delight in the elegance of ideas and shapes. The last one we can fully perceive in the present exhibition."

View the Science Is Beautiful slide show

The contest, which debuted in 2009, aims to share science's esthetic with the general public, raising awareness of the marvels scientists encounter daily. The winning entries cross disciplines, setting mathematical models and crustacean anatomy side by side. Each image blurs the distinction between art and science, from a da Vinci–esque painting of a fetus in utero, to a photograph of magnified mineral surface with a palette that would have pleased Kandinsky.

The competition received 281 entries, and jurists included a number of prominent Czech scientists and artists, including a singer–songwriter-cum-dragonfly-photographer as well as the founder of the Digital Imaging Laboratory of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. In addition, the general public could comment on and rate entries online to elect a people's choice winner, which was announced alongside the jury's selections.

Winners could place in one of four categories: scientific microphotography, scientific photography, scientific illustration or virtual nature. In addition, the jury chose a grand prize–winner who received 12,000 Czech crowns.

The jury announced winners of the 2011 competition on December 14, 2011. This past May, the Czech edition of Scientific American shared a selection of winners and other outstanding entries. You can see more images from 2011 and previous years at the competition's Web site (in Czech).

View the Science Is Beautiful slide show