Molecular Science and Art With Professor David Goodsell – Technology Networks

Perhaps perceived as distinct lines of enquiry, expression plus study in the past, the fields of art and science are now more widely accepted as being deeply connected. While their tools and mediums differ, the overarching objective is to communicate an understanding of the world around us.

Albert Einstein allegedly said that “the greatest scientists are artists as well”. Interpretation of the particular word “greatness” is, associated with course, subjective. But if we consider the most prestigious accolade in the scientific globe – the particular Nobel Prize – because one measure, Einstein’s point has merit. In Arts Foster Scientific Success , Professor Robert Root-Bernstein, a scientist, humanist and artist at Michigan State University and his wife Michele Root-Bernstein, the scholar, writer and poet analyzed the artistic vocations of Nobel Laureates from the period of 1901–2005. Their data suggested that Laureates were 2 . 85 times more likely than the “average scientist” to possess an artistic or crafty vocation. Now, Nobel Prizes are usually few and far between in the career of most scientists, but the paper presents a good interesting exploration of the qualities that creative endeavors might afford a researcher.

It appears the relationship among art plus science may be likened to something symbiotic in nature. The artistic process may provide an outlet for self-expression that yields inspiration, encouraging the particular consideration of alternative perspectives. Similarly, artwork can provide a visual depiction associated with scientific concepts, allowing the comprehension of complex, perhaps even microscopic phenomena.

In the particular minds associated with many, Professor David Goodsell embodies the intertwining of science and art within the 21 st century. A structural biologist-turned molecular artist, Goodsell holds joint appointments across two prestigious laboratories. At the Scripps Research Institute, he is a professor of computational biology in the Department associated with Integrative Structural and Computational Biology. Over at Rutgers College, he creates materials with regard to outreach plus education at the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics (RCSB) Protein Data Bank (PDB), a global resource archiving 3D structure data regarding large biological molecules, and the home of Molecule of the particular Month .

Credit: David Goodsell.  

Structural biology involves studying the structure plus dynamics of biological molecules, exploring how this relates to function, and exactly how function can be perturbed by structural changes. In Goodsell’s own words , “the power of SciArt has possibly its strongest manifestation within structural biology, where the particular things we study are particularly amenable to visual representation. ” Throughout their almost three decade-long profession, Goodsell has created hundreds of pieces of artwork depicting the beautiful intricacies of the delicate molecular world. His portfolio includes paintings associated with molecules that are central to life – such as acetylcholinesterase, collagen and hemoglobin – and heinous pathogenic invaders, like Ebola or even HIV He describes his cellular landscapes, created using vibrant shades in watercolor, as “simulating a view of the cellular mesoscale, taking a portion of the particular cell plus depicting its molecular composition”.

A major contributor in order to scientific literature, Goodsell offers also authored four books including: 1 . The Machinery of Life 2. Our Molecular Nature: The Body’s Motors, Machines and Messages, 3. Bionanotechnology: Lessons through Nature and 4. Atomic Evidence: Seeing the Molecular Basis of Life. Their passion plus commitment to science, artwork and education are widely appreciated; the majority of recently he was presented with the 2022 Fankuchen Memorial Award by the American Crystallographic Association since recognition intended for “contributions in order to crystallographic research by one who is known to be an effective teacher”. The press release accompanying the award acknowledges Goodsell’s “extraordinary skills as a communicator associated with science”.

Goodsell explains himself like a scientist, first and foremost – the goal of his art is in order to “create imagery as a tool for science”, in his opinion. For issue 20 of The Scientific Observer , Technology Systems had the particular privilege associated with interviewing Goodsell – who is as humble as he is talented. We spoke about his early experiences in science and art, the creative procedure behind his stunning symbolism and pursuing a career within this space.

Molly Campbell (MC): You started painting in your childhood but chose to pursue science because a profession. Can you talk to all of us about this decision?    

David Goodsell (DG): My first interest was in natural history – plant collections and insect collections – and from there the interest evolved to science more broadly. My father was an aerospace engineer, so I largely inherited the passion to get science plus technology through him, yet my whole family could be described as “arty”. The grandfather was a watercolorist, and he started teaching me how to paint with watercolor from a good early age.

I always a “science nerd”, and We suppose I actually knew that will – from a professional standpoint – I was going to be a scientist; I’ve just always created art on the side for fun and to stay sane. When I entered graduate school, that’s when I started in order to really bring art into my daily scientific work. Ever since then, I’ve used art to “serve the particular science”. I was lucky that, while in grad college, computer graphics hardware started to become affordable. The department that I joined at the University or college of California Los Angeles (UCLA) had purchased really cool AI and computer graphics software that nobody knew how to use. I got to experiment with writing programs and developing methods that supported the science that I was doing. Really, it allowed me to have some artistic freedom in order to play around. UCLA was obviously a nice example of where the artistic approach helped me to understand the particular science and was appreciated by other scientists that saw the value in performing that.

MC: Did you enjoy your PhD experience?

DG: It has been wonderful. We had always dreamed regarding doing real research, plus suddenly, I actually found myself in the lab where, for the first time, I could design an experimental approach based on a problem and come up with the tools required to solve that problem.

My advisor Professor Richard Dickerson had been an amazing follow – a classic example of a gentleman scientist. I’m amazed at how much everything I’ve done thereafter is styled on his strategy. He was able in order to teach me personally the basics of crystallography and how to interact with colleagues in a collegial way, but he also had a long history of composing influential chemistry books plus had worked with the performer Irving Geis for many years. They created several general interest books on protein framework, and Dickerson was very amenable to me working upon these visible methods alongside my core research. The particular environment has been perfect pertaining to what I wanted to do.

Professor Rich Dickerson is considered a “giant” in the field associated with structural the field of biology. He had been the first to complete a single-structure analysis of the B-DNA conformation .   Within 1985 this individual was elected to the particular National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy associated with Arts and Sciences.   The United states artist Irving Geis worked in collaboration with biologists to depict the structures of natural molecules. Throughout his life, he co-authored biochemical textbooks including The Structure plus Action of Proteins, Chemistry, Matter and the Universe, and Hemoglobin: Structure, Function, Evolution & Pathology together with Dickerson. In a 1997 obituary   published after Geis’ death, Dickerson said, “We developed a mutual symbiosis from which we both benefited. We could describe what needed to be illustrated about protein construction, and Irv would arrive up with clever and original graphic strategies of putting the stage across. ”

Geis illustrates the hemoglobin molecule since four symmetrically arranged myoglobins. Since it is responsible to the transport associated with oxygen, this can change from an oxygen-binding configuration to an oxygen-releasing configuration in response to the particular demand meant for oxygen. Credit score: Illustration, Irving Geis. Used with permission from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute ( All rights reserved.

David Goodsell and Richard Dickerson exploring a structure of DNA bound in order to the trial antitumor compound netropsin, using the interactive display of an Evans plus Sutherland (E& S) MultiPicture System and custom software program. Credit: The particular University of California, Los Angeles.

MC: Do you remember the first scientific project that a person looked at through an creative lens?

DG: For sure! At the time We were working with Dickerson, making use of X-ray crystallography to study little pieces of GENETICS to understand how anti-cancer drugs bind to them. All of us would get the crystallographic maps and print them out on acetate transparencies, stack them up along with sheets associated with plexiglas plus measure everything out by hand. Then, a new graphics system – called the multi-picture system – was introduced that allowed you to do a lot of this work interactively on the screen, yet there wasn’t a good software for it. Some of the particular first projects that I completed involved taking the constructions and the crystallographic roadmaps that we were determining in fresh work and coming up with graphical ways in order to look at these new pc graphic systems.

MC: What is it regarding solving buildings that interests you?

DG: I distinctly remember the particular first electron density map that I actually obtained from one of the DNA structures. When we put it on the screen, I thought to myself, “here I am seeing these individual atoms”. That was a big point in my training – the realization of  “we can actually use these types of methods to see these biomolecules”. Everything was built from that will. I think I have always been interested in structural biology and that probably comes from my earlier interest in natural history. I like to observe things plus classify all of them and realize variability. It’s a very visual and tangible approach to notice something’s structure and figure out just how it works.

MC: A person now hold two appointments across the particular Scripps Study Institute and Rutgers University. From the early graduate experiences that you talk about, how has your research focus evolved to what it is now?

DG: I’ve usually tried to split the things i perform in half – study being one half and the outreach function being the particular other. When I started in Scripps, all my work focused on the analysis; I did all of the artwork, illustration, education plus outreach within my spare time.

As my career provides progressed, and I’ve become known a lot more for the particular outreach plus artwork, I’ve found ways to support personally with that. That’s exactly where the RCSB comes in to the picture. The Chemical from the Month project started as a development of some software used for exploring the structures of molecules, and I was writing little stories in order to accompany that will software. It spiraled through there and turned directly into a way designed for the RCSB to popularize the constructions that are usually available within the archive, and also to expand the user community to populations that might not understand how structure data can become used in their own research or lives.

So , the trajectory of the career very much started from being the scientist. And then as my reputation increased surrounding my art work, I has been able to increase my work in that area plus that’s when the Rutgers appointment happened.

The Particle of the particular Month

Launched in January 2000, the RCSB PDB “ Molecule of the 30 days ” is part of the PDB’s educational portal. Authored by Goodsell, it presents short overviews of substances from your PDB, outlining an introduction to the structure from the molecule, the function and its relevance for the life sciences and beyond.

As a good open-access resource, Molecule associated with the Month has proven to be a critical educational tool, as revealed by a 2019 survey simply by the RCSB PDB, which found that will, of 339 respondents, ~50% use the particular column just for teaching, ~60% work within a college or university and ~78% function in biology and biochemistry. An editorial published by Goodsell plus colleagues on the project’s 20 th birthday confronted the question: after twenty years, aren’t you running out of molecules? “New biostructural methodologies, like cryoelectron microscopy and time-resolved crystallography with X-ray free-electron lasers, are opening up entirely new areas of structural study plus providing buildings of ever-increasing complexity for inclusion in the column, ” the authors responded.

MC: Your artwork portfolio consists of watercolor creations depicting the inside of a cell environment, drawn at-scale. This sounds incredibly complex – may you speak with us about how you create these images, and exactly how you ensure that they are precise?

DG: There really are two types of ways that it can be approached. One is immersive in style, such as you’re getting a voyage in order to the cell, and you find yourself in the middle looking around at the particular environment that will surrounds a person.

The alternative method – which I use – is where you imagine you possess taken the cell and “clipped it”, so you’re looking at a section in front of you at a bit of a distance. It is like the flat cut into the cellular. I use this particular approach because, firstly, it allows myself to show a panoramic portion of the cell, plus secondly, due to the fact I can draw everything from the same scale, and you can compare the particular individual parts from a size perspective.

It’s not because dramatic since the immersive approaches, but to me there can be too many distortions with those – I lose track of what I’m trying to show. Of course, this will likely change soon as animation is becoming much more accessible, easier to use plus increasingly immersive – take virtual reality with regard to example. People in our lab are experimenting with the new animation approaches in order to attempt to produce the “immersive” experience of the cell, yet I do think it is really much “up within the air” as to just how you may understand scale relationships within such environments.

About being precise: I constantly try to capture the current state of knowledge in these illustrations. Most often, half of my time is spent researching a topic before I even start sketching. Once i began, this process was laborious, involving lots of time within the library. Today it’s much easier, since we have wonderful online resources like the RCSB PDB, UniProt and PubMed that puts all this information with our fingertips.

MC: Many people explain themselves as a visible learner. What is your viewpoint on learning visually and how people might use your own images to understand ideas?

DG: I’ve always described myself being a visual person and a visual learner – in case I can see it, I could understand this better.

One important aspect of the particular cell pictures is that they offer a see of the cell that isn’t available experimentally, or at least wasn’t until very recently. Crystallography methods give you a very detailed structural understanding of a molecule, while microscopy looks at entire cells but doesn’t often allow you to see the individual molecule. The pictures that We create synthesize the information in order to create the view that really isn’t available through experimental strategies.

That’s changing now with cryo-electron tomography, which will be routinely showing things like person ribosomes inside cells. But to get the full view, displaying every chemical, simulated images are still the only approach.

I actually think offering a man of science a visual concept associated with just how crowded cells are usually gives them a touchstone when they’re thinking about their experiments. It’s a look at of cells that really wasn’t available prior to I started creating the pictures. Individuals knew they were packed, but they didn’t actually internalize that will when they were thinking about their work. I’d describe that because the biggest impact of my pictures.

Also, with the RCSB PDB, I’ve worked well very hard to create a style that makes the individual protein structures accessible and feel familiar. I personally use a cartoon-like technique that is colorful and hopefully more interpretable compared to complicated diagrams a person might discover in the particular more technical literature.

MC: What are a few of your favorite projects that you have worked upon throughout your career?

DG: The paintings that I do associated with cellular interiors are some thing that We still enjoy doing immensely. When I actually started working on all those in the postdoc, I treated it as a challenge to me personally. It felt like the treasure hunt. At the time, We didn’t know whether there would be enough information to really create an accurate picture that shows all the molecules inside of the cell. I had to spend so much time in the particular library gathering the info I needed and trying to come up with the visible methods to make that will complex area be interpretable. After i finished my 1st picture, I actually think that was probably the most rewarding period of my innovative career therefore far.

Another amount of my career that had been really exciting was during my graduate work in the early days of personal computer graphics. The whole field was super exciting because no one knew how to do anything, so everyone was making this up as these people go, so it was a time of attempting new representations, new approaches to lighting and trying out visual techniques to make these details more available and interpretable.

MC: I suppose that, using the nature associated with scientific discovery, your work is never truly finished. New data is published constantly, which usually changes our knowledge of certain concepts. How do you work with that?

DG: You must use what a person have available – for me, that’s the info that will is released, and our ability in order to find that details. I’m fortunate that most researchers don’t pick out tiny details plus say “actually, that’s incorrect”, rather they will see it as a larger, general synthesis of the information available.

I have been creating these pictures regarding almost 30 years now. For me, looking back at the particular pictures I have made in the past – take the particular half a dozen Escherichia coli constructions I’ve drawn, for example – I’m viewing those photos as snapshots from the info which i could find at the time. It shows that science is a living process that continues to change and progress. I don’t worry too much about the fact that the particular pictures will go out of date, largely since I often have an application for them on the period they may be made, so the image needs to catch what people are thinking or understand today .

MC: What happens when, at the time of creating a picture, you don’t have almost all the data that will you need?

DG: What I do is extremely much dependent on how the image will be used. Dont really like to create images where We have in order to make a lot of the content up. When people ask me personally to do that, I actually tell all of them that technology isn’t upward to this yet.

MC: Your work is used far and wide as an educational device, to accompany journal study articles plus beyond. Exactly how does it make you feel to know you are having a major impact on the world’s understanding of science?

DG: It is exactly why I do this particular, so that I can help people see the particular cells within the way that I is seeing them. Foremost, I make the art intended for myself mainly because I am so interested in seeing these types of views, but it is wonderful to see other people visualizing mobile processes or even molecules the way that We see them, and also building on them – adding whatever information they can towards the picture.

For instance, the cell images are usually commonly used in textbooks, most often presented at the beginning of the book to say “look, cells are actually crowded places”. Then the rest of the textbook focuses in on these person elements in order to breakdown how they are working to generate this holistic picture. It’s incredibly satisfying.

I am so lucky to be able to function with the particular RCSB PDB and make all the images freely available along with Creative Commons. The only reason that I can do which is because the particular RCSB PDB offer myself the support I need, which means these people truly view the value of the artistic approach in science.

MC: Can you tell us regarding “CellPAINT” , what this is and exactly how you hope it will certainly be utilized?

DG: As part of our work on creating 3D models associated with whole tissues, I wanted to create a good easy-to-use method for people in order to use to make their own cellular environment images. Two talented people within the lab, Dr. Ludovic Autin and Adam Gardner , ran with the idea plus created CellPAINT. It works such as a familiar digital artwork tool, but instead of brushes, you choose molecules from a palette to paint into the particular scene. We’re currently placing the finishing touches upon a virtual reality version of it that will create it easier to build similar 3-dimensional scenes.

MC: Pursuing a career in SciArt might not seem an obvious path for someone completing an education in science, or art. Exactly what advice may you provide to somebody that reads our own interview and thinks they would like to work within this room?

DG: I actually get a lot of enquiries asking how you can follow a similar profession path to mine. I always inform people that when I take a look at my community of friends and co-workers, there are really two pathways they will have taken to get exactly where they are usually.

The particular first is usually the pathway which i took. I pursued a training in science, which usually makes technology my primary profession, and then I perform artwork within support of that. To me, this is the most realistic path to take to end up being able in order to make a living in this space. The jobs available within science are more defined, right? And the scientific community is hungry for this type of imagery, but it is not generally willing to pay for it.

The other route that I find people follow involves diving headfirst straight into the art world very first. There are usually some gorgeous schools around the world to research scientific artwork, and in the United States, there are actually medical example colleges such as the Association associated with Medical Illustrators as well as the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators .

These institutions can support people who wish in order to forge the career in scientific plus medical representation. For individuals that choose that route, I see doors open to get a variety of different types of jobs – as textbook illustrators, freelance artists operating with drug companies, within museums, etc . Finding that will kind of work might not be since obvious a route as following a career into analysis but may be equally rewarding.

MC: Who else in the molecular art work space inspires you?

DG: I feel a voracious consumer associated with scientific art, so I attract inspiration through many, numerous sources. Irving Geis, of course, is the father associated with molecular illustration and launched me on my path. Currently, there are several people that I believe of as competitor/collaborators: friends who are working in much the particular same area as I do. These types of include Teacher Drew Berry , Dr . Janet Iwasa , Doctor Gael McGill and Dr . Beata Mierzwa .    

MC: What would a person describe because being the greatest challenge in your function?

DG: We need to integrate several types associated with data (atomic structures, proteomics, microscopy, etc. ), and it’s continually a challenge to deal with the particular current heterogeneous data atmosphere. Typically, each of these types of data has its own database, format, search tools, and so on. In some cases, online databases are not obtainable, so I actually need to go directly to the scientists. This challenge is getting better plus better – 20 years ago, none of these web-based details sources were even accessible. But this still feels like the treasure search every time, as I try to gather the information which i require to assistance the pictures.

Professor David Goodsell was speaking to Molly Campbell, Senior Science Writer pertaining to Technology Networks.

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