November 19, 2010, 11:26 am
Two-fer Friday: Science Visualizations Way Small and Way Big
By Lisa Agustin
There’s never a shortage of science to visualize. Molecular animations were the focus of a recent article in the New York Times, and one such animator, Dr. Drew Berry, was recently recognized as a genius (above: a still from Dr. Berry’s “Apoptosis” animation). The Times article raises the interesting question of whether it’s acceptable for animators to take liberties with their depictions:
Indeed, while enthusiasm runs high among those directly involved in the field, others in the scientific community are uncertain about the value of these animations for actual scientific research. While acknowledging the potential to help refine a hypothesis, for example, some scientists say that visualizations can quickly veer into fiction….Dr. [Gael] McGill [chief executive of Digizyme] acknowledges that showing cellular processes can involve a significant dose of conjecture. Animators take liberty with color and space, among other qualities, in order to highlight a particular function or part of the cell.
That said, the fact is that these animated visualizations represent such a vast improvement in explaining complex phenomena that were previously bogged down in text and textbooks, that taking such liberties at this time is acceptable if it helps understanding.
On the (way) bigger side of things, SciencePunk steered us toward Colin Douglas Howell’s gallery of dinosaur size comparison charts, a fun peek at how your favorites stack up to the average adult man or young girl. My only issue on these is lack of a scale for the human-sized figures– should we assume six feet (1.83 m) for the unsuspecting fellow about to get trampled (above)?
And finally, the results are in on Cosmic Variance’s survey: “What is the one concept in science that you really think should be explained better to a wide audience?” Results for “big” concepts include:
- Evolution (IIIIIIIIII)
- Entropy/Second Law (IIIIII)
- Quantum mechanics (IIII)
- Time (IIII)
- Gravity (IIII)
- Genetics (III)
- Supply and demand
- Climate change
- Quantum field theory
I’m not sure how many of these can be explained in a visual explanation; the results for “specific” concepts might fare better.
If you click through to Mr. Howell’s gallery and look carefully you eventually find a key that identifies the fellow’s height at 6 feet.
Posted by Henry Woodbury on November 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm
I’d remove the legend from the dinosaur size comparisons and just label the dinosaurs directly.
Posted by Kirsten on November 22, 2010 at 10:58 am
Henry, I made some moving visualizations for time last spring. none of them are posted where you can see them right now but ought to be soon. some very cool ones.
Posted by Elaine Froehlich on November 30, 2010 at 8:20 pm
Am I missing something about the dinosaur pictures? You say there’s no scale, but they all seem to be on a scaled grid to me?
Posted by WSabey on December 5, 2012 at 9:50 am