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Photosynthesis: the planet-protecting lifecycle


Recently, many governments have been promising to begin tree planting as a climate mitigation tool.
A major reason behind this proposal is that, during a process known as photosynthesis, plants take up carbon dioxide (CO2) in order to make sugars for their growth. This reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide as the carbon remains stored in the plant. For us, oxygen is a happy byproduct of these reactions, and the carbon dioxide is “captured.” 

Key features of photosynthesis are:

🌲 The thylakoid membrane, in the chloroplast organelle, the location of the photosystems that absorb light 

🌲 Light energy that transfers the electrons extracted from H2O to CO2, to produce carbohydrates

🌲 The carbon fixation cycle, where the ATP, NADPH and carbon dioxide are converted to sugars and starch

The illustration allows us to peer into the thylakoid membrane. 

🇸🇪 Thank you to Dmitry Shevela, a researcher at Umeå University and, a science illustrator at his own graphic design company ShevelaDesign AB. 
The poster was developed in collaboration with Prof. Govindjee Govindjee, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Seeing skin’s full spectrum


The skin is the largest organ of the human body. People portrayed in medical art very often have Euroasian skin tone and features. Darker skin is not as common.

“Brown skin can have vibrant colors, like orange, red, purple, blue, green, and a variety of undertones,” says Hillary Wilson. But without this knowledge, illustrators risk creating darker-skinned individuals who are dull, flat, and lifeless.

In skin tone ball studies, which she calls “roadmaps for how the skin would look on a theoretical face,” Hillary experiments with colors, light and shadow, and practices making scars, wounds, and freckles on darker-skinned individuals.

Melanin, a pigment that contributes to the colour of our skin, is produced and packaged by membrane-bound structures called melanosomes that are:

🔴 made by the melanocytes cells & transferred and positioned above the nucleus of keratinocytes cells to protect their #DNA against UV damage

🔴 5 times more dense and larger in highly pigmented skin

🔴 isolated and dispersed through all the layers in darker skin, compared with only being in the basal layer in lighter skin tones

Thank you to 🇺🇸Hillary Wilson, in her work she focuses on visual storytelling, and celebrating the rich variation in everyday people

Science, law, and the transitional project manager role


Julin Wong thought her scientific research skills might be too narrow for the outside world. But she found stability and satisfaction at the intersection between science and law—even if she still misses those late nights on the bench. 

By Brian Shott 

You used to be a researcher in a p53 laboratory. Tell us about your journey away from the bench.

When I decided to hop off the bench, I wasn’t really confident. Like many, I felt I might regret the move. I still loved science. So I opted for a position in the same building where I was, the Institute for Medical Biology (IMB), where, if I regretted the move, I could always go back to the bench.

So at IMB, I became the bridge between the patent people and the legal team, and between the scientists and the administration. So, for example, if you wanted to have your mouse model sent to the other side of the world, and you needed all those agreements done, that could be me, because I understood the science and the lawyers had no idea. Transfer agreements, contractual agreements, publication rights, confidentiality agreements—all this needs to be translated between scientists and lawyers. 

Did you have a legal background?

No, but when you join, you’re given a 2-3 day crash course on what you are allowed to do without needing to escalate for approval. So after being there a while, and after repeating the same thing several times, you get the gist of it. There’s also a one-year, part-time legal course you can take. If in doubt, there is also Legal whom we can always seek help or confirmation. 

You were at IMB for three years. How did you move from David Lane’s lab into that role?

I was lucky. I spoke to David, and told him I was looking for something else away from the bench, and he felt that I was suitable for the position. We thought it was going to be a business development role: you go out to speak to people and try to get collaborators for the science project. But it turned out to be a contract administrator position, reviewing agreements and documents and being the bridge between legal and the scientists.

Did you do a lot of business development during your years there?

Very little. There’s no time. Because there is so much administrative focus. Everything is administration now. I feel like science is not very fun these days. Even as an administrator I feel bogged down by administrative tasks. I feel so sad for the scientists and feel glad I’m not in that position anymore.

At KKH (Singapore’s KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital), there is a lot more focus on administration but that’s what I am being hired for, I guess! 

Is there any fun part to your administrative role?

Well, what I like is to talk to people and to further their ideas. You do want to help people and see them through the whole process. But when you start the administrative process, things get slower and slower and slower. Coming from a science background-turned administrator, I understand the reason for the administrative work. However, sometimes it can get overwhelming. Administrative work is not a scientist’s favorite thing to do, but it is also inevitable. I feel happy when I am able to support/assist the scientist and make the whole administrative journey better for them. And when the researcher gets their royalties or is successfully awarded the grant, you do feel happy for them.

Do you think you could get to your current position without the transitional project manager position you held for three years?

I do think I could have done it, but it would have been much harder. My IMB experience really helped, for example in project writing agreements, what to look out for, how to negotiate a deal—things like that have really put me in front of many people.

You said you learned how to negotiate a deal. Can you explain?

You learn how to convince people of your ideas. Or, say if I put in so much money, can I get so much out of it? 

Who are you fundraising for?

It could be for the granting bodies, or the collaborators; it could be for a company that was a collaborator. So I have to draft a budget and convince them that my budget is actually worth the money that we’re asking for. 

What did you find very difficult at the beginning of your jobs off the bench, that now you find easy?

It took me so long to write a professional email. You have to write it in such a way that the person understands what you want, and you have to end it nicely. I struggled with that (and still do). For example, I often ask myself if there is a better word I can use, or is my email clear enough? Where should the important points be (especially for the really busy people who may delete your email after reading the first sentence)? I often look at my email and think, I can’t possibly send this off. And I read other professional emails and wonder, ‘How can people write such nice emails and I can’t think of the right word?’ After a while I realized that I don’t have to stress myself so much, as long as I can get the point across. 

But emails now are so much easier. I still worry about sounding offensive.

What was the most challenging for you at A*STAR?

Looking at the contracts was really difficult at first. Thirty pages of legal language! But after a while, you get the hang of it. 

Tell us about KKH, where you work now.

KKH is Singapore’s largest academic medical Centre specializing in women’s and children’s health, and is part of SingHealth – Singapore’s largest cluster of healthcare institutions. In each medical specialties they have the academic clinical program (ACP). They group clinicians by specialty; I’m in obstetrics and gynecology (O&G). There are 15 ACPs in SingHealth, and we form a network. I support the O&G doctors at KKH and SGH (Singapore General Hospital). I lead a team of 20 staff, comprising five clinical research coordinators and 15 administrators.

What are your job responsibilities?

There are three pillars of the ACP program. The first is clinical care, where we try to improve the patient experience. We do quality improvements projects; for example, we review patients’ waiting time, and we try to enhance their experience when they see the doctor. The second is research, which is what the ACP is looking to improve the capability. I am hired for this purpose, mainly looking at facilitating clinical trials, proof of concept, surveys, mobile apps, anything that helps bring care to a higher level. The third is education, where we coordinate the training and faculty development of medical students and junior doctors.

And we ACPs also manage grants at the same time. We seek residents who are more research-inclined, and then we try to support them in competitive grant applications and grant submissions (eg national grant calls).

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about leaving the bench? What are the pros and cons?

I thought it was going to be very hard to get a job outside the bench—that my skill set was very niche. But when you think about it, in research you’re multitasking, and all of this can be transferred to your new job. It’s a big field out there. You’re more than qualified for a number of jobs.

I really loved science and bench work. I liked being able to schedule my own time. But if you are thinking of pursuing a career in administration, you may not be able to have that much flexibility. There will be many meetings to attend within the business hours of a day, and many actionable tasks to follow up thereafter. The good thing is I end work at rather regular timings. In research you can go for a beer, come back at 10pm and do your tissue culture and nobody cares, as long as you get your job done. 

I guess one kind of research I didn’t like was the troubleshooting, week to week, trying to figure out what was wrong with your experiment. So I think I had had enough of that.  

Currently at KKH, I’ve been looking at establishing better support for research and also developing/teaching the team in various aspects of research administration. This is something that I never thought I will be doing. 

Anything else that you didn’t know how to do and now you have achieved?

I’ve learned a lot about how the grants work. Because in David’s lab, the funding was simple—we were not responsible for budget planning. So you really don’t need to learn about where the money goes, or how to spend it wisely, or how to project for the next five years. I didn’t have to learn that until IMB.

For KKH, I had to learn a lot about the doctors, the hospital and its systems and processes, like any new organization you join. The doctors don’t just manage patients and go home, they lead many hospital-wide projects or programs, teach, and do research. Sometimes they’re on night shifts and even deliver babies in the middle of the night, and yet they still have to run a clinic the following day. 

You can reach out to Julin here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julin-wong-a29b99112/

Between science and art: conversations with a scientific illustrator


Born in Poland, raised in Germany, and currently steering her own company in Sweden, Daria Chrobok found her passion at the convergence of science and art. During our conversation, Daria’s love for plants and illustration shone through.

What’s behind your unflagging love for plant physiology?

I love nature and I am a very outdoorsy person. Green is my favorite color. It all fits together: I studied general biology for both my bachelors as well as masters and was drawn toward plant physiology over animal physiology. 

I think plant research is underrated and I believe it is very important to focus on plants. If we don’t have food, if we eradicate everything, we won’t have enough oxygen to breathe. I wanted to find my own way and never liked the herd mentality. Although I questioned myself frequently, I was always strongly drawn toward working with plants, one way or another. I think it is very important to listen to yourself and what you truly want to do in life.

Can you tell us about how you entered the world of scientific illustrations? How did you transition from the lab to DCSciArt?

I always had an interest in arts, be it drawing or painting. Also, I’m more of a service-oriented person; I wanted to share things and help others. 

During my PhD I did a lot of illustrations not just for myself, but for friends and colleagues, too. When I faced the biggest crisis during my PhD, when I questioned what I wanted to do, I realized that I loved to sit and illustrate all day long. Illustrating was an antidote during my trying times. 

To be honest, my journey started unexpectedly. During my PhD, a colleague approached me with an opportunity to illustrate a fantasy book she was writing for her niece. I had never done anything like that. I happily agreed and bought myself a graphic tablet to work on. After we finished the project, because we shared love for plants, we started a plant comics series. Seeing this succeed, another colleague approached me with an idea to publish the comic in a poster format to help with public outreach. We did it, and my network kept expanding. Then, another colleague came to me with an opportunity to write a grant to promote plant science. I applied for it, wrote a mini project, and started making comics for Physiologia Plantarum, a Nordic scientific journal. All these things led me in the direction of illustration. 

Concurrently, I was contemplating on combining two of my favorite things: science and art. I felt that doing scientific illustrations would fit my personality the best, leading me to unequivocally take that leap of faith. So, I decided to hop on and start DCSciArt, my very own company. And, here I am!

I was of the opinion that holding a part-time position in the beginning stages of starting my company would be a good idea. So, during my first year, I worked part-time at Physiologia Plantarum, while DCSciArt was slowly striding toward building its customer base. As I started getting more customers, in my second year, Physiolgia Plantarum partially became my customers and I have been helping them with their social media and creative tasks.

This illustration was done by Daria for the Journal Physiologia Plantarum and their special issue on Early-Career-PIs.

How would you describe your workflow?

It really depends on my customer. 

Typically, it starts off with a conversation where customers explain the concept and I ask questions to understand it better. Some customers give me sketches or scribbles or articles to read, and others get very specific, down to nitty gritty details such as color scheme. I work at it from my end and deliver the first version of the sketch. We work together to refine this, and I fine-tune it until they are happy. 

In my current project, I am illustrating for a book chapter on the phytohormone Auxin and the different strategies that can be taken towards investigating Auxin biology. The focus is on systems biology and synthetic biology, how they complement each other, and where they can be incorporated better into research. At first this seemed very abstract and challenging to illustrate as the authors also had an open mind about its potential look. Eventually, I had to find out what they had visualised in their minds, understand this and match it to their expectations as much as possible. A lot of back and forth conversations and significant brainstorming sessions were needed. In the end it worked out and I find it immensely gratifying when I manage to break down something really complicated into a simple yet beautiful illustration.

Often, before moving to digital, I sketch on paper with a pen. I taught myself the software; I use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and Procreate. Based on my customer’s requirements, I pick vector- or pixel-based programs. Illustrations could be comics, in which case it doesn’t have to be strictly scientific to match publication standards. It could also be content for a webpage or brochure.

Can you share some information about a favorite project of yours?

Out-of-the-box projects are my favorites. These customers give me the freedom to choose the way I illustrate. Through Florian Hahn, a colleague of mine, there was one such project I got involved in last year. I was invited to join an organization about agriculture called Progressive Agrarwende, a German dialogue platform that facilitates progressive ways to change agriculture. As a part of this, we made a CRISPR-based advent calendar last December. Each day, in the form of a comic, information on a well-researched genetically modified plant was disseminated on social media. We came up with 24 such drawings of all kinds of genetically modified plants. I depicted the science that was happening, drew plants with funny expressions, and threw in a lot of Christmas decorations to spur the festive season. 

The resulting publicity expanded my reach to people with broader illustration needs. I thoroughly enjoyed working on it. I have also done some illustrations for popular science articles published by Progressive Agrarwende, about alternative protein sources, particularly insect-based products.

Who are your clients and how would you classify them?

I started off from my base with the network that I had, which is plant physiology. Although a predominant portion of my work revolves around plants, I am very open to illustrating other themes as well. If it is anything scientific, it could be methods, mechanisms or pathways. Sometimes it could even be logos; it doesn’t have to essentially deal with science only. 

I do scientific illustrations for researchers, life science companies, educational platforms, publications, grants, presentations, journals, books, magazines, etc. When something science-y and artsy needs to be combined, I can do that. My customers can be anybody, literally; from a university, a company, a publishing house, or anybody managing a social media platform. It could even be a school teacher who wants some nice slides. It’s an endless box of potential clients. 

The only restriction is that people need to be able to finance my services. I need to make a living from it as well. 

Are scientific illustrations used heavily in Europe? How wide-ranging is your customer base?

From a career standpoint, scientific illustrators are not very well-known in Europe. However, scientists have started realizing that hiring professional illustrators is becoming a necessity. I am sure there will be more education and awareness in the future. I am based in Sweden, so the majority of my clients are from here. I have worked with clients from Germany and the United States, too. 

Last year, when I designed the advent calendar for Progressive Agrarwende, to make its reach international and widely accessible it was translated into 10 different languages. Stemming from this project, I was contacted by customers from the Netherlands and Czech Republic. The work I do at DCSciArt is not constrained by geographical boundaries and customers are welcome from across the globe. 

What would you say to someone considering scientific illustration as a career?

I think there is definitely no one way to do it. In my case, I did a PhD and then got into it. Someone can also hold a degree in arts and jump in. But not having the scientific background may pose a challenge. I have not done any formal education in scientific illustrations, but I can still do it. Online and distance learning courses can improve knowledge and skills. A colleague of mine took a natural science illustrations course offered at the Zurich University of Arts. There is no streamlined career path, one can jump in from different sides. 

If you enjoy illustrating, keep doing more of it. When you are off work, in your free time during your PhD, find ways to practice the software and hone your illustrative skills. You have to transfer the knowledge you have through drawing something in a digital program. In my case, it has been a process of constant learning by consistently doing more of it—practice, practice and practice, loads of it! 

I would suggest starting from your network and working your way around by taking up opportunities that let you explore and expand your scope, so that people will get to know about you through your work. Starting from a book illustration to clinching a grant, talking to people and telling them why I liked doing what I was doing, I built a strong network along the way. Sometimes we just have to dare, do things, not be afraid and simply try it out! You never know what is in store. One opportunity may lead to another and set the stage for new beginnings. 

You can reach out to Daria here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daria-chrobok-she-her-279124bb/

A Christmas tree, in diatoms


An early Christmas tree made of 13 different types of diatoms, single-cell algae living in water 🎄
🟢 There may be as many as 2 million different kinds of diatoms; scientists are discovering new species of diatoms each year

🟢 Diatoms come in many different shapes and patterns thanks to their cell walls made of silica

🟢 #Diatoms are indicators of water quality, from pH to nutrient levels

Thank you to 🇩🇪 Anncharlott Berglar holds a PhD in Biology and an MA in scientific illustration. She loves to visualise #nature and #science and make them understandable to everyone. Anncharlott made most of the drawings based on the information presented on algaebase.org and diatoms.org, and was inspired by Ernst Haeckel’s diatom plates.


The microscopic mysteries of ALS


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a devastating neurodegenerative disease characterised by loss of muscle control. In 2014, the viral fundraising sensation of the Ice Bucket challenge raised both awareness and funding.

There is currently no cure for ALS, in part due to the complexity of the syndrome; 147 genes have so far been linked to the disease. Precision diagnostics and targeted therapy for individual patients or patient subgroups offer the best potential for future treatments.

The pathological processes associated with ALS include:

■ Mitochondrial dysfunction
■ Protein accumulation
■ Defects in RNA metabolism
■ Destabilisation of the cytoskeleton

This illustration mixes the abstract image of a weakening muscle disappearing into a black hole with the molecular details of the causative pathologies in the neurons and surrounding the cells in synaptic space. Looking on is the late, great Stephen Hawking.

🇹🇷 Gökçe Tanıyan is a PhD candidate in the Oncology Department of the Institute of Health Sciences and a scientificillustrator. She loves to enlighten science by the light of the art.

Phage fight — battling resistant bacteria


Doctors typically prescribe #antibiotics to stop bacterial infections, but the rise of antibiotic-resistant “super” bacteria is making them ineffective.

A potential alternative is #phage therapy. Phages are #viruses that:

🟠 Are highly specific to one kind of #bacteria, leaving “healthy” bacteria alone.

🟠 Reduce risk of bacterial resistance development.

🟠 Show low toxicity in humans.

Although phage therapy has been around since the early 20th century, its use has not been approved in many countries. However, renewed efforts are being made to address the challenges of this technology, with the hope of increased treatment options against specific types of bacteria.

The illustration shows the use of phage therapy during an infection, in this case by the gonococcus bacterium, which causes #gonorrhoea.

Author: Thank you to 🇪🇸🇺🇸Maria Lamprecht Grandío, a molecular microbiologist who has, since 2015, combined her two passions, #art and #science, to work as a postdoc researcher and freelance illustrator. The illustration was made for Professor Fernando Santos from Microbiology Department, Alicante University (Spain)


A new kind of Zoom


Who are they? Can you guess what they are saying to each other?
The funniest answer wins!

The year 2020 has radically changed the way #science has been shared, with many researchers working remotely, and meetings and conferences going virtual.
This illustration is a light-hearted take on science exploring new avenues of #communication during these pandemic times.

Now, can you guess what they are saying to each other? Who is the host? What does he say?

Thank you to Cirenia Arias Baldrich (aka Cirenia Sketches), a Oxford Brookes University postdoctoral researcher and a freelance illustrator in love with science communication.

ImagenScience Advent Calendar project, Dec 4th


Drawing spine surgery’s history


The complex bone and vascular anatomy of the neck have long challenged surgeons.
Treatments have greatly evolved over the last century, and doctors need to document them and understand their logic. Illustrators are vital in this task.

Pictured is a surgical technique used to repair a fracture that occurs in the second vertebra of the spine (vertebra C2):

🟢 a hook-and-screw combination to fuse the vertebra C2 with the first vertebra of the spine (C1)

🟢 alternative technique to treat the excessive movement of the junction between the C2 and C1 vertebra, caused by the fracture and causing pain

🟢 though not common, the procedure is simple and reduces risk of neurovascular injury.

Isabel used real human vertebrae as models and painted in watercolor for an organic, natural effect and digital imagery for the medical instruments.

Thank you 🇪🇸 Isabel Romero Calvo, MS PhD the founder of Morphology LLC, a biomedical visualization company, and a clinical assistant professor at 🇺🇸 UIC College of Applied Health Sciences in Chicago.
The illustration was made for a review of historical cervical spine surgical techniques https://lnkd.in/eqNZDZf.


Inside the path lab


Diagnostic from a pathology lab: why does it take so long? ⏱️

The #pathology lab plays a key role in the #diagnosis and prognosis of many diseases, but for many people what happens there is a mystery.

Here, we are going to show you the itinerary of a tissue biopsy:

1️⃣ Fixation & Processing.
The sample can’t be used as it is, it has to undergo a number of preparatory steps: fixation to preserve its integrity ( 24-48 hours) and a series of solvents including paraffin wax (12 hours)

2️⃣ Sectioning. The sample is now in a hard paraffin wax block and must be cut in sections of 5 micrometres.
Each section will end up in a glass slide (1 hour)

3️⃣ Labelling. The glass slide can now be labelled with dyes or antibodies. This will highlight specific features of the sample. (From 1 to 12 hours)

4️⃣ Analysis at the #Microscope. The pathologist will examine it for indications of disease.

Thank you to 🇪🇸 Cristina Sala Ripoll, a freelance scientific illustrator who loves to create infographics and colorful images for science outreach and education.
This illustration was created for the Pathology department at the University Medical Center Groningen, with the collaboration of Dr. Wilfred den Dunnen.