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As the director of molecular visualization in the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, and the president and CEO of Digizyme, Gaël McGill is interested in how we understand complex science through images.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How cell dynamics can be visually represented
  • Why it may be just as useful to understand how a scientific image was created than to understand the material within the image
  • How the COVID-19 virus can be depicted from the time it binds to a cell to the time it penetrates the cell membrane and releases genetic material

If you’ve ever watched a YouTube video on a process like DNA transcription, then you were likely viewing images generated from a software program—not a microscope.

Which design decisions lead to effective imagery for communicating scientific concepts? How do you combine a ton of data into representations that help people understand complicated scientific principles and improve communication in science? How do you strike a balance between doing the science justice and making it simple enough to reach the understanding of students and laymen?

These are the questions that drive McGill’s work, and just a few of the ones he discusses on today’s episode. He emphasizes the pedagogical value of getting people to think about how certain images are made, as he believes that in and of itself is an excellent way to learn the material presented by the images. In this vein of thought, he shares the thought-provoking philosophy that “science is not a bunch of facts; science is a way of knowing, and it has to be taught that way.”

McGill explains how techniques such as X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy can be used to reconstitute an image and obtain the information for the precise location of every single atom in a molecule—whether it’s a small one like a hormone, or a large one like an entire virus.

Check out to browse animations selected and curated by the team at Digizyme and explore a series of online courses and training for those interested in scientific illustration.


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