Within the three-pound universe we call the brain, an active neural landscape lights up when an idea bursts into existence: a personal Big Bang!

Conceptual illustration of someone with epilepsy remaining informed of potential seizures through implanted medical and mobile device readers, improving his quality of life. Illustration: David Ehlert  © 2008, NeuroVista

Conceptual illustration of someone with epilepsy remaining informed of potential seizures through implanted medical and mobile device readers, improving his quality of life. Illustration: David Ehlert.  © 2008, NeuroVista

These sparks are the catalysts of creativity; in their wake come wild theories, hypotheses and experiments, both scientific and artistic. It’s where earth’s roundness is proven, AIDS can be cured and Alzheimer’s becomes a disease of the past. It’s also where the idea-translation process comes into focus.

A scientist’s discovery – beautifully profound, complex, hopeful – resides at the mysterious intersection of art and science. A medical illustrator’s work – elegant, focused, didactic – also resides at this intersection. Through an active partnership between scientist and artist, a symbiosis results which has the potential of impacting life as we know it.

As a strategic communicator for life sciences, researchers entrust me with the critical mission of translating their sparks of genius into immersive images, storybook style sequences and crafted data visualizations. The art and act of translating their science is as full of experimentation (i.e., research, ideation, interpretation, composition, color, technique) and eurekas as science itself.

Early research and development for illustrations focused on the extracellular protective barrier of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Early research and development for illustrations focused on the extracellular protective barrier of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Illustration: David Ehlert

Final series of S. aureus visualizing cell wall degradation via the beta-lactam antibiotic. Illustration: Cognition. © Congnition

Final series of S. aureus illustrations visualizing cell wall degradation via the beta-lactam antibiotic. Illustration: David Ehlert. © Congnition

At the intersection of art and science is an opportunity to create a visual language that can have an immediate and/or lasting impact that fuels humanity’s innate desire to look at more, create, share, learn and – last but not least – be entertained throughout the experience.

Conceptual visualization of a B-cell undergoing apoptosis (cell death). Illustration: David Ehlert. Copyright: Cognition

Conceptual visualization of a B-cell undergoing apoptosis (cell death). Illustration: David Ehlert. © Cognition

T-cell illustration (similar appearance to a B-cell) also used in B-CLL visualizations. Illustration: David Ehlert. Copyright: Cognition

T-cell illustration (similar appearance to a B-cell) also used in B-CLL visualizations. Illustration: David Ehlert. © Cognition

Illustration of a nurse-like cell that promotes B-cell Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (B-CLL) survival. Illustration: David Ehlert. Copyright: Cognition

Illustration of a nurse-like cell that promotes B-cell Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (B-CLL) survival. Illustration: David Ehlert. © Cognition

The use of technology to deliver unexpected (surprising and delightful) experiences with data is integral to how we translate innovation into visualizations and then into understanding. Here are a few observations:

CMS-driven tablets are providing leadership teams with platforms to become more conversant in the science driving their biotech, expediting the delivery of pivotal, one-on-one dialogues with investors.

Media-rich web pages are bringing the art of storytelling to biosciences, delivering beautiful data visualizations and enabling users to discover information through intentional narrative flow.

3D printing, no longer a novelty, is making patient data tangible. Medical models, surgical guides, hearing aids, dental applications and implantable devices have all benefited from additive manufacturing. But on the forefront are bioprinters that use a “bio-ink” made of living cell mixtures to print/build a 3D structure of cells, layer by layer, to form human-compatible tissue.

The scientist-artist partnership provides a greater chance for clear communication and idea development, garnering increased exposure and financial support. Done well, the visual narrative created communicates the intended message and serves as a catalyst for change that continues the advancement of life sciences.