Question: Should real scientific data always be used when creating scientific visuals for the general public?
As someone who spent her educational career training as a biologist, I believe that in most cases real scientific data should be used for scientific visuals when available. The more accurate a representation is, the more clearly an audience will create a mental picture of a concept.
In the video shown here that I animated for Cell Signaling Technologies while at Digizyme, I used protein structural data from the Protein Data Bank (PDB) to make all of the models (Including the apoptosome, caspases and actin filaments.)
To get a full picture of how a biological process works and how several proteins work together, I often have to combine multiple different structural files from different experiments and scientists.
But once that is done, the viewer gains a greater understanding of the biological process than they would have by looking at any individual source.
Students understand more than they are sometimes given credit for and as long as a complex topic is described in clear manner the audience has the potential to take away many different layers of information.
Dynamic Cell Therapies (DCT) hired me recently to design a series of images that would explain their scientific platform to a lay audience of investors. In this gallery of images, you can see a summary of the visuals that also appear on their website.
For most of the molecular insets I used real structural data with a few exceptions.
The orange antibody is based on 3D structural data from the PDB file 1IGT, but 1IGT is NOT the antibody that DCT uses. They use custom antibody fragments that do not look like traditional antibodies.
I chose to use this more traditional antibody representation because it would be more instantly recognizable to a lay audience. In this instance, it was more important for the audience to quickly, at a glance, recognize that DCT technology uses antibodies, rather than show the true structure that could have been mistaken for a different protein.
The blue circle attached to the antibody represents a small molecule that DCT uses to make sure that T cells specifically bind to the tumor cells that should be destroyed. I chose to use the circle representation because the small molecule DCT uses is proprietary. They didn’t want to reveal anything about the structure of this molecule. So instead I used a simple shape and coloring that would be associated with the molecules on the T cells.
I believe it is always important to create scientific visuals as accurately is possible with as much data as is currently available, but it is also important to make sure the audience understands the concepts we are trying to convey. These are the values I always weight when designing scientific visuals.