Cognition Studio, Inc.

strategic communications for life sciences

Art Is Science Is Art: Elucidating Science Through Visual Language

July 2, 2013
By David Ehlert
David Ehlert's picture
Tue, 07/02/2013 - 16:21 -- David Ehlert

This article was originally published in ARCADE, Issue 31.4, Science, Art and Inquiry, in June 2013.


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!

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.

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.

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.

David Ehlert is the co-founder and certified medical illustrator at Cognition, a strategic communication firm for life sciences. A sleuth-turned-storyteller and passionate illustrator, he works with the region’s brightest researchers, helping them tell their unique science stories and creating brand-driven visualizations. David is also a regular guest lecturer at the University of Washington.