Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
Main content start

Images capture science in action and nature’s beauty

This year’s Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability photo contest highlights Earth’s beauty, challenges facing people and the planet, and action to advance global sustainability.

A curious bear forages at sunrise, silhouetted against snow-capped mountains. A pair of researchers collect tidepool samples at sundown in Morro Bay. A harbor seal pup nuzzles its adoring mother near Elkhorn Slough. Such are a few of the treasures among the winners of the 2024 Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability photo contest.

2024 photo contest

Each year, the school’s photo contest showcases the remarkable talent of the Stanford community – not only as visual artists and storytellers, but also as scholars working to make the world more sustainable – all while highlighting nature’s struggles to survive.

“I think photography, when it's done well, can communicate about sustainability in a very profound way that you can't with words or any other medium,” said this year’s guest judge, George Steinmetz, ʻ79 Geophysics, a photographer known for his striking images of the world and the times in which we live.

“Overall, I was impressed with the diversity of subject matter and with the talent among the contestants who are, after all, essentially taking pictures at their workplaces. That’s not easy, even for a professional,” Steinmetz said. “So, congratulations to all the photographers on that count. It was a great honor to be invited to be a judge and a great way for me to reconnect with this university that has meant so much to me.”

One-hundred-forty Stanford students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty, staff, and alumni submitted 409 photographs to the 2024 photo contest – the most submissions in the contest's history.

Judges selected a dozen finalists and a handful of honorable mentions. A quick scan of the images provides a deeper appreciation of all that is at stake should sustainability efforts fall short. There is no lack of beauty and power, awe and cuteness among the winners, but there is also a bittersweet sense of all that has been lost already.

The judges evaluated photos in four categories reflecting the school’s focus on cultivating deep knowledge and high-impact solutions to pressing planetary challenges: Action and Impact in the Field; Action and Impact on Campus; Beauty in Nature; and The Challenges We Face.

Research, fieldwork, and collaboration on a global scale are showcased in the Action and Impact in the Field category. First place winner Paul Summers, a geophysics PhD candidate, took top honors with his photo of fellow PhD candidate Danny May heading out for fieldwork on Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica.

Images in the Action and Impact on Campus category portray Stanford changemakers, researchers, and students at work on campus. Physics doctoral student Bernardita Ried Guachalla topped the category with her analog selfie in front of a filter for the world’s largest digital camera at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Photos entered in the Beauty in Nature category present wildlife and landscapes in their ever-changing glory. Category winner Kate Bradley, BS/MS ‘24, Earth Systems, captured an austere scene of a lone soul standing atop the ridge of a sand dune at sunrise in Oman’s Āl Wahībah Dunes.

Submissions in the final category, The Challenges We Face, draw focus to wildfires, ocean plastic pollution, drought, and other environmental challenges. Matt Flores, a staff member in the Office of Development, won the category with a stark black-and-white image of fire-ravaged trees against a somber sky in Santa Rosa, California, following the Tubbs Fire.

Judges ranked images on artistic merits including color, composition, and lighting, as well as on content such as subject, emotional impact, and category fit.

First-place winners receive an annual pass for U.S. National Parks and federal recreational lands and a Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability water bottle. All awarded photographers, including honorable mentions, receive a certificate of recognition and the opportunity to have their work displayed at Roble Arts Gym during the Spring Arts Fair on April 26, at Stanford’s Redwood City campus, and in the Mitchell Building’s Hartley conference room. 

Action and Impact in the Field

First Place

Paul Summers
PhD candidate, Geophysics, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability

A student walking on a glacier toward their research station with tents and flags obscured by the icy fog around them
PhD candidate Danny May heading to work on Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica. Photographer: Paul Summers

Second Place

Nicole Lin
Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Medicine

Fisheye lens view of ocean surface. A shark beneath the surface and a team of researchers above on a boat tagging it
Shark scientists tagging a nurse shark off the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida aboard Angari research vessel. Photographer: Nicole Lin

Third Place

Submitted by Lauren Lubeck
PhD student, Biology, Hopkins Marine Station, School of Humanities and Sciences

Photographed by Laurent Formery
Postdoctoral researcher, Biology, Hopkins Marine Station, School of Humanities and Sciences

Small silhouettes of two researchers with equipment standing in the water, which reflects the blue stretch of sky above
Lauren Lubeck, PhD '26, with Professor Chris Lowe collecting hemichordates in Morro Bay, California. Photographer: Laurent Formery

Honorable Mention

Gert van Dijken
Staff, Earth System Science, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability

Researchers in bright orange jackets drilling into a sheet of ice with a large blue research vessel in the background
Stephanie Lim, PhD, drilling in the ice to collect ice cores with Professor Kevin Arrigo. Chukchi Sea, Arctic Ocean. Photographer: Gert van Dijken

Action and Impact on Campus

First Place

Bernardita Ried Guachalla
PhD student, Physics, School of Humanities and Sciences

Black and white. Person in a protective lab suit takes a photo of their reflection, framed in a large circular mirror
Analog selfie in front of the biggest camera filter for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Photographer: Bernardita Ried Guachalla

Second Place

Emily Chu
Class of 2027

Person wearing a neon yellow vest lifts up a wooden board in a grass field to inspect the soil below it
Bohdan Kamets, a conservation technician, checks for herpetofauna under a coverboard. Photographer: Emily Chu

Third Place

Sammy Andrzejaczek
Postdoctoral researcher, Oceans, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability

A shark emerges from under the water to inspect a gray cloth on the surface
A 12 foot male white shark nicknamed "Batman" investigates a decoy elephant seal off Año Nuevo, California. Photographer: Sammy Andrzejaczek

Beauty in Nature

First Place

Kate Bradley
Earth Systems, BS/MS Class of 2024, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability

Silhouette of person standing on sand dune peak. Horizon divides bright orange dunes from deep blue sky
Overlooking the ridge of a sand dune at sunrise in Āl Wahībah Dunes, Oman. Photographer: Kate Bradley

Second Place

Vanessa Chen
Mechanical Engineering, Class of 2025, School of Engineering 

Underwater photo of a sea turtle lifting head to touch water surface. Sun rays stream down from the rippled surface
Green sea turtle surfacing for a breath of fresh air in the Great Barrier Reef. Photographer: Vanessa Chen

Third Place

Ashnee Gounden
Staff, Oncology, School of Medicine

Rosy sunlit mountains in the background with the silhouette of a bear walking past a reflective lake
As the sunrise casts its glow over the mountains, a curious bear emerges, adding a touch of untamed beauty to the landscape in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Photographer: Ashnee Gounden

Honorable Mention

Jason Hu
Computer Science, Class of 2026, School of Engineering

A baby seal reaches their head to their mother who smiles as their noses touch
Domestic Bliss: a harbor seal pup nuzzles with its mother on the banks of Elkhorn Slough. Photographer: Jason Hu

Ken Schultz
Faculty, Political Science, School of Humanities and Sciences

Dark clouds outlined by the sunset's glow sweep over a mountain landscape
A clearing storm catches the glow of the setting sun over Yosemite Valley, taken from Glacier Point. Photographer: Ken Schultz

The Challenges We Face

First Place

Matt Flores
Staff, Office of Development

Black and white. Silhouettes of towering burnt trees with rubble on the ground below them
Aftermath of the Tubbs Fire in Coffey Park, Santa Rosa, California. Photographer: Matt Flores

Second Place

Aslam Khan
Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, School of Medicine

Crowded pack of elephants standing in the red dirt with zebras walking behind them and the horizon in the distance
Animals lining up at one of the few remaining watering holes at the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Photographer: Aslam Khan

Third Place

Joel Simon
Alumnus (MS ʻ77), and staff, Continuing Studies Program

Birds eye view. Vertical lines of a grassy dirt path parallel to wavy yellow and black trails in water
Drone image of salt pans near Menlo Park shows how the salt industry has impacted our bay coastal habitat. Photographer: Joel Simon

Honorable Mention

Eric Hartge
Staff, Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions

Sun rays shining through bright clouds above the ocean. In the foreground, the beach is cluttered with trash
Sunrise on a Majuro Atoll tideline. Photographer: Eric Hartge

Explore More