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Science Illustration

by Eva Amsen

synapseThis image of neurotransmitters at a synaps is part of the best science illustration of 2005, by Graham Johnson. It was the winner of the 2005 Science Magazine and NSF Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

Scientists often use schematic drawings to explain concepts of molecular interactions. Sadly, most researchers’ illustration skills reach no further than circles and squares drawn in powerpoint. It works in getting the message across, but it doesn’t look pretty. If the research attracts enough attention to end up in popular media or in a text book, squares and circles won’t do the job anymore. Fortunately, somewhere in that grey area between art and science, there is a handful of science illustrators whose job is to translate a scientific concept into an image that is both informative and aesthetic. Some examples of scientific llustration can be found in the Science Art database.

Degrees in science illustration
Several months ago, ScienceCareers.org interviewed Dino Pulerà in their feature on careers in science illustration. Dino is a graduate of the program of Biomedical Communications at the University of Toronto. This program is one of five graduate programs in science illustration recognized by the Association of Medical Illustrators. Four other recognized graduate programs are available in North America, in Illinois, Maryland, Georgia, and Texas . These programs require an undergraduate degree in either science or art, with the other discipline as minor.
Another graduate program is the one year science illustration certificate from Santa Cruz. The requirements for this program are a bachelor degree in scince with the ability to draw. At the bachelor level, the University of Memphis offers a Bachelor of Professional Studies (B.P.S.) Degree Program in Biomedical Illustration, and the Rhode Island School of Design offers a certificate in natural science illustration. The Medical Illustration website also maintains a list of schools offering programs in science- or medical illustration.

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Medical Illustrator October 20, 2006 - 11:17 PM

I love that Illustration. I should enter next year.

Student December 6, 2007 - 8:23 AM

Hi, I am a student interested in becoming a Natural Science Illustrator. I have been trying to find a good site about it, (incomes, benefits, Requirements, etc.) but cannot find one. Can anyone help me with this?

Sascha July 16, 2008 - 4:51 AM

I’ve done some illustrations for varies things but never considered it for these kind of things interesting. Well good work there.


Peter McConnell August 17, 2009 - 10:31 PM

There are some great examples of scientific illustration based on antique prints at
Their pictures are based on illustrations done before the era photography, when scientist employed some of the best artists of th day to illustrate their work and discoveries

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