Visualising the molecular

A dozen or so years ago, or maybe more, I was heading up the communications section of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, when I employed a young biology graduate as a graphics guy to do medical graphics. This he did for a while, until he started playing with three-dimensional graphics software. He did some animations of cell surface signalling molecules, and of malaria parasites, and cancer cells, and took them to the director, and suggested that we set up an animation unit within the department.

This we did, and within a short while, Drew Berry had managed to gain funding via the Howard Hughes Medical Research Centre to do animations of DNA being duplicated and expressed. Now Drew, having a science education (he had done his Masters with Jeremy Picket-Heaps in Botany at the University of Melbourne. Jeremy is widely known for his wonderful microscopy films of cells), didn't go by the cartoon versions of molecules in the textbooks. He wanted to know what things would actually look like if we were molecule scale and seeing things with a kind of portable electron microscope in real time. The results won a BAFTA for the 2002 television series DNA.

I wish I could take credit for some of Drew's work - at best I made a few comments about how things looked to a layman (I am eminently qualified in that respect), as I watched over his shoulder in wonder. Often his work was what I first attended to when I got into the office, just to inspire me for the rest of the day, but don't tell him that. His work is so different and interesting that he has been ripped off by the ABC (with our tacit blessing) for promos and illustrative material for years. But he is by far the best thing that came out of my department before I went academic and dropped in salary so I could pursue what I wanted. I won't embarrass him with anecdotes. Yet. If the cheque doesn't clear, though...

Anyway, Drew is now the subject of a profile on the Mothership Magazine, Seed. Go check it out, and then watch Drew's highly influential videos. They are all online here.

More like this

Mmmm. In the 70s, when IBM engineers were telling me we could never put an encyclopedia online because it would take too many keystrokes, my daydream was to have software that would create 3D images of molecules and rotate them. I love seeing this kind of thing!