I like science. I also like things that look nice. That means I’m a sucker for things like the Brainbow transgenic mouse, where genes for a range of different fluorescent proteins are introduced into the mouse, producing pictures beautifully multicoloured slices of brain, like the one shown below.
Hippocampus: Broad Overview Tamily Weissman, Jeff Lichtman, and Joshua Sanes, 2005 from Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century by Carl Schoonover
I’m drawn to anything with neurons on it, ties, shoes, t-shirts… My desktop background is an artists impression of dopaminergic neuron dendrites (I’m not sure how they look different from other neurons). It’s not just modern neuroscience that produces wonderful images though. The anatomist Santiago Ramon y Cajal produced stunning pictures of neuroanatomy that had been revealed by the Golgi staining method.
Olfactory Bulb Camillo Golgi, 1875 from Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century by Carl Schoonover
Cajal’s illustrations are immediately recognisable. People have painted them on canvas and tattooed them on themselves.
(I)Pyramidal neuron from postcentral gyrus, 1899 Santiago Ramon y Cajal (II) Photomicrograph of a Golgi preparation of postcentral gyrus, from the collection of Santiago Ramon y Cajal Museo Cajal from DeFelipe and Jones, Cajal on the Cerebral Cortex, 1988 source: Santiago Ramon y Cajal by Javier DeFelipe, MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1998
I like to see data too. When I’m reading a paper I look for figures to help me interpret the results. When I’m designing my figures I want them to be attractive, but also clear and easy to understand. I’m a disciple of Tufte and a believer in the idea that information can be beautiful, but I also realise it can go very wrong.
Science shouldn’t look dull and boring. Science isn’t dull and boring, it’s full of a million and one unanswered questions and fantastical things you never knew. But in a busy world you might never know about them unless something catches your eye. Make your science catch someones eye, and when it does, have it tell the story of how you got there.
Hat tip and apologies to Bioephemera, whose two posts I stole the pictures from. And if a mystery benefactor would like to treat me to Carl Schoonover’s Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century or David McCandless’s Information is Beautiful I would be a very happy man.
EDIT: The BBC have an impressive slideshow of the winners of the Wellcome Image Awards.