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Art Imitating Life

Hello, and welcome to The Analytical Scientist’s pop-up art gallery! I’m Matthew – Editor of The Analytical Scientist – and I’ll be your guide on today’s audio tour. If you’d be kind enough to leave any coats and bags in our cloakroom, I’ll begin by sharing a short message from the artist behind the pieces we have on show. Over to you, David Goodsell!

From the artist

Thanks, Matty. Hello everyone, I’m David Goodsell, Professor of Computational Biology at the Scripps Research Institute, Research Professor at Rutgers University, and an avid painter of biological phenomena – as you’ll see for yourself shortly.

I started in the science world long ago, completing my doctorate with Richard Dickerson at UCLA using X-ray crystallography and computational modeling to explore the structure of DNA. I subsequently completed a postdoc with Arthur Olson at Scripps Research; this portion of my studies focused on molecular graphics and methods for computational drug design. My art training, on the other hand, is purely informal.

I am a voracious consumer of scientific imagery, and draw from more inspiring examples than I can count. My early influences are the Golden Nature Guides and Time-Life Science Library, and the wonderful work of Chesley Bonestell, Roger Hayward, Irving Geis, and Jane Richardson. Feeding on these inspirations, I started working on my own cellular landscape during my postdoc. The paintings were a creative way for me to reconnect with larger themes in biology, the structural aspects of which I was becoming so involved with at the time.

In fact, I articulated the aim of these pieces in my first paper on the topic: “A clear picture of the interior of a living cell that shows the average distribution of molecules at the proper scale, the proper concentration, and with no missing parts seems to me to be central to the understanding of the working of life.” Today, this remains as the clearest description that I can apply to my work, and I integrate information from the RCSB Protein Data Bank, UniProt, EMDataBank, and primary literature to bring my vision to reality on paper.

Three exhibitions of my work are on show in this pop-up gallery at present. I hope you enjoy viewing each of them as much as I enjoyed producing them. Now, I’ll hand back to your tour guide; the first exhibition awaits!

The VAX series

Here it is: the VAX series. This collection hosts paintings that explore the molecular basis of one of mankind’s greatest protectors – the vaccine. Let’s get started!

Immunological Synapse, 2020

Poliovirus Neutralization, 2019

Influenza Vaccine, 2019

That’s it for the VAX series – I hope you enjoyed it! Now if you’ll please take a right turn, our next exhibit can be found at the end of the corridor. “What’s in store?” I hear you ask. The next exhibit feels like a natural transition from the last, as we travel from the inner workings of vaccines to a contemporary example of their importance. Yes, you guessed it: welcome all, to the coronavirus exhibit.

Coronavirus in technicolor

As the information available to us about SARS-CoV-2 expands, we are painting an increasingly vivid picture of its structure and behavior. In this exhibit, David presents these advances through his own artistic lens.

Coronavirus, 2020

Coronavirus Life Cycle, 2020

Fascinating, I think you will agree. And now it’s time to move on to the last exhibit in our pop-up collection, which takes us back to molecular basics by depicting the components of long-studied biological processes occurring in the human body. We have chosen to present just three in the exhibit, but many more are available throughout David’s portfolio.

The body in action

The three bodily actions we’ve chosen to take aim at in this final exhibit range from the infamous to much lesser known, and each has their own important implications for functioning and disease. If you turn to your left, we can begin with painting number one: “Insulin Action.”

Insulin Action, 2016

Lipid Droplets, 2019

Autophagy, 2011

I’m afraid that brings us to the end of our tour, ladies and gentlemen. I hope that you enjoyed each piece as much as I do, and I hope that you leave us with a newfound appreciation of the scientific analysis underscoring our understanding of these key biological entities. Do you have a favorite? Or even multiple favorites? Well, you’re in luck – each of the pieces is available as a print in our gift shop on the way out. Please do take a look if you have the time.

Stay safe out there and spread the word; David’s exhibitions will be with us for the foreseeable future! Goodbye for now. We hope to see you again soon.

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About the Author
Matt Hallam

I've always wanted a job that fosters creativity - even when I worked on the assembly line in a fish factory. Outside work, I satisfy this need by writing questionable fiction. The venture into science writing was an unexpected departure from this fiction, but I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to combine my creative side with my scientific mind as Editor of The Analytical Scientist.

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