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Best scientific journal covers from 2023


Best scientific journal covers from 2023 with gold ribbons

Scientific journal covers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering captivating imagery, but much like popular magazine covers, they hold their unique charm. Think Vogue or The New York Times Style Magazine, but for the more… scientifically inclined. And as riveting as a perfect model shot can be, there’s something irresistibly unique about the unrivalled beauty of scientific advancements. 📸


Magazine or journal cover aside, their goal remains the same:

To intrigue, engage, and draw in readers.


As per annual tradition, our team at Animate Your Science has combed through an impressive selection of scientific journal covers published this year, and we've handpicked our top five favourites to share. With countless top-tier covers to select from, we were truly spoilt for choice!


We've chosen to spotlight illustrated covers, a category that includes both traditional and digital art. Being illustrations, it allows artists to represent scientific concepts that might not be feasible to photograph, even with the most advanced equipment. That being said, we're also big fans of the incredible photographic covers out there.


In this blog post, you can look forward to:


  • Unraveling the messages and suggested analogies these covers present.

  • Gaining insight into the likely creation process of these illustrations.

  • Observing the colour schemes that bring these covers to life.


Let’s celebrate these works of scientific artistry!




Health Care Science

Volume 2, Issue 1-5, April-October 2023


Health Care Science February 2023 scientific journal cover
Health Care Science April 2023 scientific journal cover


The scientific message


You might be wondering—why are there two near-identical covers for Volume 2 of Health Care Science? It’s actually because this cover has been featured across multiple issues throughout the year; serving to represent the journal’s central theme and namesake: health care science. In other words, the cover was SO GOOD that they’ve given it several encores with alternating colour schemes! 👏


So what’s going on behind this bold, distinct, and thought-provoking artwork? There has been no official description released by the publisher, so we’ll be having a dig at it.👇

The central subject of the piece is a large test tube with a piece of DNA that morphs into a plant-like appendage. And from plants—as well as other organisms—we can extract the very basis of life: DNA. It’s no secret that DNA holds a myriad of life’s secrets, and it’s only by research and experimentation (hence the test tube) that we can uncover these secrets and translate them to health care outcomes. Another interpretation is that since medicines have historically been extracted from plants, it’s thanks to plant-derived remedies that we’ve come to reach our modern understanding of medicine. Throughout the artwork we can also see inserts of other medically-relevant items: pills and blister packs, stethoscopes, electrocardiographs, and even data. All of these are tools which are needed for understanding and caring for life.



Illustration


Last year we featured Volume 1 of Health Care Science from an unnamed artist, and we can only assume Volume 2’s cover was also crafted by the the same or similar artist from Tsinghua University Press.


We believe the artwork was created with a mix of vector and raster illustration techniques. The vector aspect comes from the very clean and symmetrical appearance of the shapes in the artwork, after which a rasterised effect was likely applied to make it appear grainy. We’re able to accomplish a similar effect in programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.


Adding a grainy effect to a vector graphic scientific illustration


Colour scheme


Each cover has its own set of colour schemes, though it appears green is common between them. To many, green is a colour that represents life: from simple plants through to our modern day healthcare symbols ➕. Each cover strategically uses analogous colour schemes, which means they employ colours that are directly next to each other on the colour wheel (i.e. yellow, green, blue).


Colour scheme for scientific journal cover


Cell

Volume 186, Issue 8, April 13 2023


Cell Volume 186 Number 8 scientific journal cover


The scientific message


Without a doubt, cancer remains one of the most enormously complex group of diseases we’ve ever known. That’s precisely why it requires groups of world-leading experts to band together to untangle its complexity together. 🤝


In this Cell piece, we see a tangled ball of yarn or rubber bands representing a tumour, as it’s being pried apart by groups of people. Our immediate thought was that these people represent cancer researchers, but in fact it also represents medical doctors, their patients, advocacy groups, drug companies, as well as the wider community who has contributed to our understanding of cancers. And just like how cancer is incredibly diverse as a disease, so too are the people fighting to fend against it. This diversity is shown by teams of people of various races and cultures working together in their goal of unravelling cancer’s secrets. In the same vein, it also represents the collaborative spirit of sharing our knowledge towards fighting a common foe, which is the key message behind the editorial for this issue.



Illustration


Phillip Krzeminski is the Illustration & Design Program Manager at Cell Press, as well as being a renowned freelance illustrator and exhibit designer. Many of Phillip’s designs to date have a hand-drawn feel to them, showing his mastery over digital painting through Adobe Photoshop or other raster-based illustration software like Procreate or Fresco. There is also a splotchy quality to the textures in this piece, suggesting the use of watercolour techniques or brushes.


Watercolour splotches in artwork


Colour scheme


The most prominent colours in this piece are dark blue and pink, which creates an immediate sense of contrast between the subject (tumour) and the background. Pink is a natural colour to use for a tumour, given that it represents tissues in the body. What’s interesting is the colour of the people’s clothing is quite varied, and therefore represents the sheer diversity of people working on untangling cancer. 🧶


Colour scheme scientific journal cover


Nature

Volume 615, Issue 7953, March 2023

Illustrator: Shuang Li


Nature Volume 615 Issue 7953 scientific journal cover


The scientific message


Did you ever think you’d see self-driving cars in your lifetime? What a pipe dream, right? But with the undeniably massive advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), these vehicles are leaving the world of early 2000’s sci-fi movies and will soon be entering our roads. 🚙


Though before we see robots in the Uber business, we need to assess how reliable an AI driver can be in responding to hazards, compared to a human being. Given that there are an infinite number of road scenarios, you would have to train an AI driver on hundreds of millions of miles of different roads and environments—an impossibly gargantuan and impractical feat.


That’s why Feng et al. is training an AI driver in simulations of dangerous scenarios using deep reinforcement learning, a subfield of machine learning that explores trial and error. They then gave the AI a proper driving test in a real car and assessed its ability to respond to hazards in augmented reality (AR). In this Nature cover, the AR aspect is illustrated through the various holographic vehicles around the car. Any hazards are depicted in red, such as the pedestrian and the car behind the AI driver. There are also several circles radiating from the AI driver, which is likely its field of vision.



Illustration


Shuang Li is the talented artistic mind behind this incredible piece that vividly represents the research being conducted by Feng et al. We can see that this piece was designed on an isometric grid, which means that you’re viewing it from a top-down view that’s tilted approximately 45 degrees.


Isometric scientific illustration diagram

This style is great for creating illustrations with many overlapping elements, like buildings and cars in this instance. As for how the overall piece was created, we theorise that this was a mixed-media piece that employs both vector illustration and 3D rendering. The vector aspect is clearly seen in the clean shapes of the road lines, buildings and pavement; which was likely constructed in software like Adobe Illustrator. 3D rendering may have been used to create the AI vehicle in software like Autodesk 3DS Max, though some masters could recreate it in Adobe Illustrator as well.



Colour scheme


Two main colours are used in this graphic to represent two opposing sides: Safety (blue) vs. Danger (red). Interestingly, the shades of blue used are subdued and pale, giving the impression of night driving which is generally more hazardous. The red works as a bold contrast, and clearly highlights the presence of hazards.


Colour scheme scientific journal cover



Science Immunology

Volume 8, Issue 80, February 2023

Illustration: Alexis Finkbeiner


Science Immunology Volume 8 Issue 80 scientific journal cover


The scientific message


Imagine a microscopic showdown of epic proportions! That's exactly what's captured on this Science Immunology cover. Here, we see T-lymphocytes (also known as T-cells) the unsung heroes of our immune system, engaged in a critical face-off against a menacing yellow cancer cell. But, this isn't just any cancer cell; it's one exhibiting unusual proteins on its surface, which act like a target for the T-cell.


The objective is clear… TO KILL and DESTROY!


This newfound class of cancer proteins, occur due to unexpected mixes in our DNA. Imagine our DNA as a recipe book. There are the important steps of the recipes—called ‘exons’, and then there are the notes and annotations—called ‘transposable elements’. When the important parts and random scribbles get mixed up, it results in the production of these unusual proteins.


In the research article, Merlotti et al. found that these proteins were recurrent in human lung tumours and that T-cells, a type of immune cell, had adapted to target these proteins, highlighting the adaptive immune system's role in recognising and attacking cancer cells. Additionally, the illustration reflects the companion paper by Burbage et al., which delves into ‘epigenetics’—a set of mechanisms which control the production of these tumour-specific proteins. This cover vividly communicates the ongoing battle between the body's defence mechanisms and cancer, a core theme in contemporary immunological research.



Illustration


This cover art was likely created using a combination of digital painting techniques, employing software like Adobe Photoshop, Procreate, or Fresco. Several different digital paint brushes were likely used to emulate the imagery of nebulae—clouds of dust and gas in space. There's a noticeable repetition in the elements, such as the proteins on the surface of the yellow cancer cell, suggesting a methodical use of copy, paste, and transform tools to create variations in size and orientation, adding a dynamic feel to the composition. The artist then ‘layered’ all of these elements, creating a composition with vivid highlights and shadows that almost mimic the hues of a sunset. This approach not only adds a three-dimensional quality to the image but also makes this depiction of cancer immunology more engaging and accessible to the viewer.


Layering a scientific illustration for a journal cover


Colour scheme


The colour palette of this cover art is a harmonious blend of blues, pinks, and yellows—giving the impression of an intergalactic scene of the stars. The dominant yellow of the cancer cell stands out starkly against the blue background, creating a focal point that draws the eye. Surrounding this is a soft pink hue, which adds a sense of movement and energy to the scene. This choice of colours is not only aesthetically pleasing but also serves to clearly differentiate the key elements of the illustration – the immune cells, the cancer cell, and the surrounding environment.


Colour scheme scientific journal cover



iScience

Volume 26, Issue 6, June 2023

Illustrator: Fanchen Kong


iScience Volume 26 Issue 6 scientific journal cover


The scientific message


It’s no secret that since the dawn of industrialism, that we’ve released an unforeseeable amount of toxic pollutants into the environment, which negatively affects not only humans, but also other organisms. Toxic heavy metals, such as cadmium, are especially hazardous, and therefore certain species have found ways to avoid it at all cost. ☠️


In the featured study of this volume of iScience, Li et al. demonstrated that Drosophila flies are surprisingly sensitive to cadmium, and can can actively detect the tiniest traces of it through their bitter taste receptors. Specifically, it’s thanks to three ionotropic receptors—molecular sensors that detect metal ions—that are connected to their BRAINS that helps them to discern the danger. In fact, it’s quite possible that this natural part of the fly’s biology could even give them a competitive evolutionary advantage! After all, pollutants are not on the menu for trying to develop an acquired taste. 🪰


This artwork beautifully captures the themes of this study with a depiction of factory buildings, a deeply polluted planet Earth, a looming shadow of scattered toxic material, and of course the brave and humble Drosophila flies steering clear of it all.



Illustration


Fanchen Kong is the artistic visionary for this brilliant and thought-provoking piece that boldly captures the state of our environment and the themes of Li et al.’s work in environmental toxicology. From the splotchy textures of the piece, we can clearly observe that this artwork was made with watercolours, which can be accomplished either on paper, canvas, or even digitally through software like Adobe Photoshop. In our opinion, this texture is especially effective as it echoes the splotchy qualities of pollutants of all sorts.


Splotchy qualities in illustration for watercolour effect


Colour scheme


Fanchen’s choice to use a solid white background lends itself incredibly well to this piece, giving great contrast against the darker colours of the Earth and the pollutants scattered across the land, sea, and sky. Of these darker shades, a very pale blue, grey and green are used to represent uncleanliness, while the escaping flies are represented in a solid black silhouette as a stark contrast from the rest of the piece.


Colour scheme scientific journal cover



In the market to commission an eye-catching journal cover illustration?


Crafting a scientific journal cover is a fantastic way to showcase the intrinsic beauty of science across all fields and disciplines.


However, it's no easy task. Designing such a cover demands a firm grasp of the scientific topic at hand, as well as substantial artistic prowess to bring the concept to life.

So, the key question arises: who embodies this unique fusion of scientific knowledge and artistic skill?


At Animate Your Science, our multidisciplinary creative team bridges this gap. Our backgrounds in science and art allow us to create striking scientific journal covers that make your research stand out with a statement. So when our designs grace the front cover of your chosen journal, rest assured, your work will get the recognition it deserves!


To discover more about our services, click here.



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