Artistic masterpieces deserve to be immortalised for many ages to come. But now there’s more efficient ways to do that than simply preserving them in galleries (the Mona Lisa probably needs a regular dusting).
We have the world’s gallery at our fingertips.
We call it… you guessed it…
THE INTERNET! Or more precisely, social media.
When it comes to preserving, acknowledging and sharing SCIENTIFIC works of art, otherwise known as scientific illustration, science illustration, or SciArt (take your pick), there’s no better social media platform to do so than Twitter: the Digital Home of the Academic.
Go little blue bird, go! Darwin’s finches would be proud!
Indeed, that little blue bird is the perfect messenger for spreading SciArt far and wide, with just one retweet at a time.
And in fact, the Twitter bird brought me to five extremely talented and skilled science illustrators whom I am absolutely honoured to feature in this article 👏
Given that this is an equal tribute to the science illustration community, my selection is presented in no particular order.
Time to roll out the red carpet!
Melanie Lee from Nanoclustering is a scientific illustrator with a research background in chemical engineering. During her PhD, she discovered the value of art and visual media for communicating research, which prompted her to dedicate her time to learn and master 2D and 3D illustration. Indeed this is a story that resonates with our creatives here at Animate Your Science. A picture does speak a thousand words! 🏞
The large bulk of Melanie’s work is indeed in 3D illustration which she uses Cinema 4D for modelling. To further render the work, she moves the models to Redshift, which is created by the same company Maxon. She also works with Zbrush for sculpting shapes that are a little more “organic”, such as skin or detailed folds in 3D objects. With so many tools at her disposal, she has a unique solution for creating beautiful figures, graphical abstracts, infographics and also scientific journal covers.
You can follow Melanie through the Nanoclustering Scientific Illustration Twitter page to get the latest updates of her work.
Also make sure to check out her portfolio on her website to get a full experience of her various styles!
My favourite piece from Melanie
Melanie’s 3D art is beyond phenomenal, and accurately portrays real world research and scientific concepts. Take for example this amazing rendering of a chromosome. Now, the beauty truly lies in the level of detail we see here.
If we were to stretch out the DNA of a single human chromosome, it would be roughly 5 centimeters in length. Now, humans have 46 chromosomes, which in total would roughly add up to about 2 meters of DNA. That’s 2 meters of DNA per CELL! And that all has to fit into the nucleus! That’s why DNA has to wind itself up like a ball of yarn 🧶 (with the help of certain proteins). You can see this compaction in this illustration, where wound-up DNA is depicted as blue “strings”. You won’t see the individual DNA molecules at this scale, as they’re even tinier 🧬
There’s a huge world in just one compartment of the cell. Melanie’s detailed 3D work allows us to take a peek inside and appreciate its beauty for ourselves 🌎
Hassan Tahini from ScienceBrush is a scientific illustrator with a research background in materials science which spans chemistry, physics and engineering. Leveraging his extensive training and knowledge of the physical sciences, he beautifully translates complex ideas into thought-provoking and impactful graphics in the form of scientific journal covers and graphical abstracts. Indeed, turning concepts from physical sciences into artwork is a challenge in and of itself, and Hassan’s work definitely does it justice.
To create his 3D illustrations, Hassan uses Autodesk 3DS Max which is a powerful 3D modelling and rendering software. Mastery of this software allows Hassan to create beautiful textures that make the art look almost photographic! His additional skill in Adobe Photoshop also gives him that extra edge for implementing polish and final detail.
Make sure to follow Hassan on Twitter where he regularly shares his latest scientific journal cover artwork!
You’ll also want to keep a tab open for his website to browse through his impressive portfolio.
My favourite piece from Hassan
Hassan has constantly amazed us with the sheer detail found in his work, and we are confident that every journal would be thrilled to have his designs on their front page.
But the one piece that really struck out to me is this beautiful cover which was designed for Dr Alexis Bordet and Professor Walter Leitner from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion.
But what exactly does it depict?
In the world of organometallic chemistry, in order to create or “synthesise” certain materials, you’ll sometimes need a ‘spark’ to get the reaction running. These are referred to as catalysts. Metal nanoparticles serve as a great catalyst for researchers to use in order to get certain reactions to work. What’s been newly discovered however, is that coating these particles in hydrogen is an efficient way to make specific materials which incorporate hydrogen in their structure.
You can see how Hassan has communicated this concept with an artist’s depiction of a chemical reaction under high pressure (with a really cool-looking 3D rendered pressure gauge!) to produce different “hydrogenated” products shown in a rainbow that’s wafting out of the reaction chamber. This research has major implications on improving methods in this field of work, which could then be used to further benefit pharmaceuticals or other chemical industries. And thanks to Hassan, such a beautiful cover will ensure that this research gets the visibility it deserves!
David S. Goodsell
David S. Goodsell is a biochemist with a joint professorship between the Scripps Research Institute and Rutgers University. On top of his impressive academic track record, David is a highly accomplished and reputable scientific illustrator.
With a research background in structural biology, he specialises in illustrating biological molecules; or more specifically the interactions between molecules which reflect real-time events occurring inside of cells. You’ll often find his work referred to as molecular landscapes, or cellular panoramas (how cool sounding is that? 😮)
David even developed his own signature style of scientific illustration which uses utilises cell-shading to communicate three-dimensional aspects of molecules, such as proteins. To this end, he employs two distinct mediums for his work: traditional watercolour painting, as well as 3D rendering using a program he developed called Illustrate.
You can find David as an active Tweeter, so be sure to give him a follow to keep up with the latest of his amazing molecular landscapes!
You can also read all about him on his very own Wikipedia article.
My favourite piece from David
My absolute favourite illustration is definitely his SARS-CoV-2 (the pesky virus which causes COVID-19) watercolour painting, which is BOTH published as a scientific journal cover in Nature, AND as part of a prestigious art collection through the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences (CPNAS), pictured below.
Who else wants this beautiful piece framed on their walls? 🙋🏾♂️🙋🏻♀️
What you’re actually seeing is the immune response sending out antibodies (in yellow), which attach themselves to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 to prevent them from entering your cells. A clear visual contrast between the components of your immune system (earthy colours: yellow, green, brown) and the virus (blue, purple, pink) makes this all the more vibrant and all the more informative!
It’s always an absolute treat to see traditional art mediums being used to create incredibly detailed works of art that could be mistaken for digital art. Indeed, this is simply a testament to David’s phenomenal skill with watercolour and his deep knowledge of biochemistry.
… one brush stroke, and one protein at a time.
Fish and Lines
Madhu from Fish and Lines is a scientific illustrator who specialises in ichthyology. Since the tail-end of 2020, Madhu has been powering through hundreds of beautifully accurate fish illustrations, including both marine and freshwater species. At the beginning of his Twitter journey, Madhu’s initial sketches helped inform the community about the native habitats of well-known fish as well as their endangerment status based on classifications from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In more recent tweets, Madhu has shifted focus to illustrate families of fish to show differences and similarities between breeds or between species.
Who doesn’t love a great family photo? 🐟
Madhu first sketches and plans his drawings in Inkscape, which we recommend for budding digital artists looking for an open source vector graphic solution. For detail, he moves his work to Krita, which is also a free and open-source program, to add colour and polish off the final product.
His work has also been published in the Practical Fishkeeping Magazine (PFKmagazine), which is a beautifully illustrated guide of a diverse range of fish species.
Discover the latest of his beautiful illustrations, and interact with Twitter’s ichthyology community!
My favourite piece from Madhu
Now I am quite biased. As a hobbyist fishkeeper myself, I immediately gravitated to his beautiful collection of freshwater angelfish Pterophyllum scalare, which are in the family Cichlidae. Angelfish were in fact one of Madhu’s first ever pet fish (and mine too!). Look at how incredibly diverse ONE species of fish could be! Indeed, many of these variants were made as a result of selective breeding, and in nature you’re likely to find the “wild-type” striped Angelfish.
I’d definitely be in line to grab a poster or print of this!
While I could definitely talk for ages about each and every one of his freshwater fish collections (hold me back!), I get the feeling it may be time to feature our next artist!
Mark Belan from artsci studios is a scientific illustrator, designer and science communicator with a broad training background which spans across geochemistry, astrobiology and biomedical communications. Leveraging his broad field expertise and incredible command of digital art, Mark delivers astounding scientific illustrations across the world.
Mark creates most of his work in Adobe Photoshop (and you know us, we love the Adobe suite) while any 3D work is expertly rendered in Cinema 4D. Then it’s back to Photoshop again for adding in some final touches! A little polish goes a very long way.
You can follow Mark on Twitter where you can keep up with the latest and greatest of his masterpieces. We get extremely excited with every update!
In addition, you can check out his website with links to his broader portfolio.
My favourite piece from Mark
It was quite a challenge to pick just one piece from Mark, and lo and behold my favourite is also a COVID-related one (how topical…!)
The first is a scientific infographic designed for Merck to differentiate how mRNA vaccines and antiviral medications work in the context of COVID-19. We’ve been lucky enough to have had a sneak peek of what the initial sketches looked like. It’s incredible to see a pencil sketch turn into an elaborate and informative piece of scientific art. The whole infographic itself has actually been further stylised with a “papercraft” texture, giving it a very friendly and approachable look for the audience.
It’s actually incredible how the use of the papercraft texture and shadows makes this infographic feel as though it’s popping out of the page. Even the smaller illustrations and icons feel dynamic, such as the proteins (antibodies and enzymes), and beautifully contrast with the cooler blue background through the use of warmer colours.
Constructing an infographic that maximises space (while keeping a good amount of negative space) to this extent is definitely a challenge, so the idea to package all of this information in a cell is beyond brilliant!
Inspired by all of this amazing artwork?
We definitely enjoyed putting this tribute together, and Twitter is just one place to look for talent!
As part of a team of PhD-trained creatives, Animate Your Science also aspires to deliver high-quality scientific illustrations and animations to help better communicate research to the world. We are proud to have collaborated with scientists from all around the world from across all walks of science. But at the heart of it all, what we enjoy most is the challenge of making any and every scientific concept accessible to the public.
Contact us today to find out more about promoting your research. We’ll be sure to have the right solution for you!
Dr Juan Miguel Balbin
Dr Tullio Rossi