Although pictures rarely say more than a thousand words when it comes to scientific inquiry, a powerful photo will once in a while imprint itself as an unforgettable emblem of everything the academy stands for –– progress, discovery, elegance, and ingenuity. During the course of 2013, this has been confirmed over and over again with the emergence of mind-bending, gross, viral, stunning, crazy, discomfiting, repulsive, and beautiful images depicting life’s best-kept secrets. We believe that the following countdown features some of the best examples.

7. Ten Fingers, No Thumbs

ku-xlarge Reddit

Although it may look like a Photoshop hoax, this viral image of a woman with 10 fingers and no thumbs is very real. About one in every 25,000 children is born with triphalangeal thumb (TPT) –– a condition in which an extra finger develops instead of a thumb. Depending on the degree of the malformation, the function of the fifth finger may be trained or surgically reconstructed to approximate that of a thumb. 

6. High Heels Scan

High heel scan YouTube / Royal National Orthopedic Hospital

This 3D scan is a harsh reminder of the many orthopedic consequences of high fashion. The image, which was developed by researchers at the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital in London, shows how high heels throw your body weight off balance, strain joints, and ultimately push bones out of place. To avoid this type of damage, the researchers recommend that you avoid wearing high heels for more than a few hours. 

5. Baby Born In Amniotic Sac

Newborn Baby Delivered Floating in Intact Amniotic Sac En Caul by Greek Doctor Facebook / Aris Tsigiris

Though jarring at first sight, this photo of a baby delivered in her amniotic sac ultimately exemplifies the jaw-dropping strangeness with which life reveals itself. Aris Tsigiris, the Greek obstetrician who took and uploaded the photo in March, describe the phenomena as an extremely rare occurrence in which the baby’s protective, fluid-filled membrane fails to rupture in utero. As a result, the mother never goes through “water breaking,” and the amniotic sac must be punctured manually. The phenomenon, known as en caul or “veiled” birth, is thought to occur once in every 80,000 births.

4. Thought-Controlled Bionic Leg

bionic leg Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

A few years ago, Zac Vawter lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. This photo from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago shows the lower-limb amputee’s brand new bionic leg — a thought-controlled robotic limb that offers users a seamless transition between walking, climbing stairs, and moving along slopes. The unit, which is connected to a patient’s own nerves via targeted muscle reinnervation surgery, is described by its developers as a safer, faster, and more intuitive alternative to conventional prosthetic technology. "The bionic leg is a big improvement compared to my regular prosthetic leg," Vawter told reporters. "The bionic leg responds quickly and more appropriately, allowing me to interact with my environment in a way that is similar to how I moved before my amputation.”

3. EyesOn Smart Glasses

smart glasses Evena Medical

This is a first-person screenshot taken with EyesOn Glasses, a groundbreaking innovation that stands to transform bedside care and IV, starts by allowing nurses to peer through their patients’ skin –– literally. The unit uses multispectral 3D imaging technology to derive data from invisible spectra and layer it over the user’s natural field of vision. The result? A seamless blend of the digital and physical world that allows nurses to locate veins viable for IV access in no time.   

2. Flap Prefabrication

Xiaolian Nose Reuters

Flap prefabrication is one of those procedures that make you question your knowledge of the human body. This astonishing image depicts Xiaolian –– a 22-year-old man who is currently undergoing a mind-bending new brand of nasal reconstruction. Using skin and cartilage from his ribs, doctors are growing him a new nose to replace the one he lost in a car accident back in 2012.

1. The Girl With Two Heads

Three-month-old-Asree-Gul-at-a-hospital-in-the-eastern-Afghanistan-city-of-Jalalabad-2306348 Getty

Three-month-old Asree Gul was admitted to Nangarhar Hospital in the Afghan city of Jalalabad with an unusual problem: she needed a head removed. The surgery, which was performed by a team led by Dr. Ahmad Obaid Mojadidi, would eventually become recognized as the most sophisticated procedure ever performed in the impoverished town. Although doctors are still not sure what caused the additional head to develop, some theorize that the growth was the haunting vestige of a twin who did not make it through the gestation period.