Sharing complex ideas is the pinnacle of human communication, developed through the millennia preceding our time.
In ancient times, due to limited linguistic options, it was probably a challenging thing to express ideas about existence with precision, rendering them immediately understandable and usable.
I remember watching the first episode of Through The Wormhole, one of the first shows in the 21st century that banked on the incredible narrative skills and the immense depth of Morgan Freeman’s voice to bring modern science closer to the hearts and minds of viewers all around the world.
Yet, it wasn’t the aptitude of Mr. Freeman’s incredible voice which struck me most.
One of the guests on the show, a mathematician turned surf-bum (in his own words), Garrett Lisi explained an E8 Lie group. While watching, even though I was fully attentive, I couldn’t grasp what he was describing. And then, they cut to the 3D graphic animation.
Saying that my mind was blown is an understatement.
Not that I fully understood the intricacies of the described geometric concept. In the arena of theoretical mathematics, I am admittedly a layman. But just seeing the E8 Lei group doing its thing was awe-inspiring. I thought to myself: “So this is what he was talking about.”
Since then, I’ve had major respect not only for the E8 but also for the power of a properly visualized concept, and it can mean a world of difference. And honestly, whoever animated that thing is a genius in my eyes.
A lot of digital marketing agencies know this. That’s exactly the reason why they’re so successful in relaying concepts for their clients outside of the science arena. And if there’s one thing to be learned from marketing, it’s that it works. But, of course, it works in science too.
In our modern, fast-paced society, time for intellectualizing over a concept has gone missing for most. So it’s easy to understand that, even in science, the arena that’s been guiding the progress of humanity, it helps experts understand each other quicker rather than slower.
What can be explained in a diagram easily presents statistical data, and that’s neet. What about the need to show onlookers the direction, mass, and speed of sub-atomic particles that appear after we’ve collided photons close to the speed of light?
A diagram won’t help us there, at least not as much as other solutions might. Fortunately, it’s not the only tool we have available.
This might be difficult
I’ve mentioned above that for me, even the person who made the presentation of Garrett Lisi’ idea of that magnificently complex structure is a genius. In 2010, when the episode aired, software that could produce this visualization was detrimentally more difficult to use.
I say detrimentally both because of how many ideas weren’t understood and appreciated at the right time by the community of peers. Also, just think of all the hours wasted by the authors of significant and path-shaping ideas and concepts, trying to out-grapple visualization tools.
As the years went by, software developers understood that their tool being usable in advanced ways isn’t enough. It needs to be easily learnable as well, so that people wouldn’t be dreading the day when they’re supposed to use their product and develop resentment as a consequence.
This, for that?
Of course, not everyone in science is working on, nor needs to explain the sub-structure of the genome, nor the similarities between tetraquarks. And even if they do, aspects of these explanations can be visualized differently, some more appropriate than others.
We’ll divide tools that can help us into three categories:
– 2D images
– 3D images
– Diagrams and infographics
Each of these is good and useful, and knowing which of them to use, at what time, is what’ll give what you’re sharing purpose. You can use these to make what you’re presenting more accessible to the mind and imagination, and that’s always a great thing.
Adobe is a company we’ve all heard of. Products from which we benefited for quite a while now, in various forms, made its Illustrator so versatile that its uses are limited only by the user’s imagination.
Now, considering we’re getting to the gist of approaching scientific illustrations, let’s consider what makes Adobe Illustrator so fitting for the purpose.
Vector graphics, a term that refers to images defined in terms of points and lines, increases the quality of produced images significantly compared to static pixels. This means that images can be scaled up without becoming blurry, an important function when looking into important details of a whole.
This makes displaying images on bigger screens (both in girth and resolution capabilities) smooth, without the risk of your most important work being displayed in seemingly poor quality, which might reflect badly on it. A small loss for you, a potentially big loss for all of us.
If you prefer open-source software, where your observations about its pros and cons weigh, InkSpace might be the right choice for you. They can be voiced to a community that can build upon them and potentially use your feedback to optimize the product for everyone who uses it or use it in the future.
As this is a factor at times, knowing that using InkSpace is free might ease up the decision if cost is a factor that you’re considering.
Mind the graph
There’s a reason why a broad number of medical and life science professionals choose Mind The Graph. Its wide array of field-specific icons and premade scientific illustrations has positioned itself as one of the leading software for creating papers, presentations, and infographics in the sciences.
With 30,000 life-science icons, and the possibility to manipulate their size and orientation in any way imaginable, BioRender has successfully made the process of creating appealing and precise scientific illustrations easy for people who need it.
A great number of organizations swear by it and have gone on and completely switched to it, as it eases up the creation of previously complex and time-consuming models. A highly recommended piece of software, one for which you need the savviness you most probably already possess.
Best used for intricate and complex scientific showcases, 3D renders are sometimes the best way for correct and direct getting to the point.
You might have been or will be in situations where the explanation of your discovery needs to be understood by all of your peers. Sometimes it’s just not as practical to do it verbally, so we might want to use a 3D render to our benefit.
A great example of this is a decade-old TED Talk that Sebastian Seung gave on mapping of the connectome. You might be wondering, what is a connectome? Well, Sebastian will easily explain, using a great 3D model in combination with his incredible oratorship.
Let’s dive into what tools you can use to best visualize your findings.
Professional-grade software is always a welcoming tool for those who need to lay out precise details on the table. And considering its uses are so wide, you may even be showing people what they can actually find on a table, in the case of medical professionals.
It provides character creation capabilities if you might be doing archeological facial reconstruction, animation, and simulation tools. With all of this and more, you should be able to create a perfect picture for your point of study, whatever it may be.
Maya also has a molecular extension, suitably named Molecular Maya, specifically designed to model and animate molecular structures.
As InkSpace is to the Adobe Illustrator, so is Blender to Maya. Being an open-source piece of software that provides exceptional options, if you’re looking to reduce the cost of your production tools, this would be the tool for you, as it’s free.
Also, as seen before, BioBlender is equipped with an extension, or rather, a plug-in, through which you can go into the depths of microbiology and create molecular structures.
As any New York web design company will tell you, apart from wanting to present your own creations in the shape of 2D and 3D renders, at times, you might want to use diagrams and infographics, edit and analyze images, or perhaps access previously created scientific illustrations.
We’ll list some useful programs and apps for this category and let you do the research and choose per your needs.
- Diagrams and infographics can be created with Adobe InDesign, as well as Microsoft’s Publisher and MS Visio is a tool for creating complex diagrams and flow charts, so you might want to take a look at it if that’s what’s you need. Canva comes with many stylish templates available for creating various things in this category, and Piktochart is another tool that you can use for this purpose.
- Editing and analyzing is a process that is incredibly well covered by ImageJ, a Java-based open-source image processing tool. The National Institute of Health developed it, so we imagine it has a plentitude of good applications. But, of course, Photoshop will probably always have a special place when talking about image editing. For editing images, Photoshop is a powerhouse, and scientific images can’t be excluded.
- Premade illustrations are an incredible time saver. You might be looking to introduce what you’re displaying or build upon something already existent, and these databases will help with that. NOA, a search engine build specifically for scientific illustrations, will give you access to millions of relevant images. The Protein Data Bank, better known as PBD-101, as its “entry-level,” is your access point to visualizations of biomolecular structures and their functions as well.