A Portrait of the Sci-Artist

Jon Heras 25 October 2007

I have always been interested in science, and I’m still amazed by how we can know so much about the very very small, such as biological pathways and particle physics, and the very very large, like the formation of the universe and the observation of its very edges. Communicating such concepts verbally is hard, particularly without resorting to jargon, but scientific graphics are a powerful way to convey visually what scientists believe to be true, in a clear and accessible way for non-scientists.

Scientific art isn’t particularly new; artists have been presenting scientific imagery for years. Science has a way of producing exciting interference patterns or really cool electron micrographs, and such materials have been used by artists without a great deal of scientific consideration. However, recently there has been an explosion of scientists embracing visual media to convey their work in a scientifically accurate manner. Harvard University and XVIVO recently collaborated to produce a stunning 3D animation called “The Inner Life of a Cell”, which goes far beyond the traditional chalk-drawings of the Open University and really gives a feel for the bizarre mechanisms operating within us, which we so easily take for granted.

While I was finishing my PhD in MRI of engineering systems, I started my own company, Equinox Graphics (www.e-nox.net), to produce 3D computer graphics with a scientific objective, and have created illustrations for Bluesci magazine for the past two and a half years, using this as a base to expand my portfolio and improve my skills. I now have an agent and have worked for institutions as varied as Blue Peter and Real Madrid.

I am in the enviable position of being able to communicate with both scientists and artists, and to be able to take cutting-edge scientific concepts and render them accurately. Most artists would be in at the deep end here, and that’s where their problems begin. Even little things, like ensuring that images of DNA coils have the correct chirality (they could be left-handed or right-handed coils, but only one exists in nature), can really smooth out the production process.

I would encourage any scientists with an artistic inclination to develop their artistic muscles, as art can help them to communicate the importance of their work, both to other scientists and to the public. And for all artists, I would say there is something to be gained by examining how things work, whether on a microscopic or a larger-than-life scale, to understand the inner workings and the greater scheme of things.

Jon Heras