Behind the scenes at Scientific American

The Evolution of a Scientific American Information Graphic: Gamma-Ray Flashes


On occasion, concept sketch submissions make me swoon. Most often, the happy-making sketch comes from a freelance illustrator that has been commissioned to flesh out a specific information graphic for us. But every once in awhile, an unexpected gem arrives directly from an author.

Scientific American’s expert authors are generally great at providing reference material for illustrations in the form of previously published journal article figures and PowerPoint lecture slides. And many authors go the extra mile and take pen to paper to help answer specific questions from our editorial team with annotated cartoons. Packed with handy–and critical–information, the source material is gratefully accepted, digested, and used. But it rarely makes me grin.

A few months ago, a sketch from author Joseph Dwyer made me grin (below). The information was clearly visualized, which certainly made my job easier. But the careful details and style in which the cartoon was executed well, that just made me very happy.

Dwyer gamma-ray sketch

Author Joseph Dwyer's concept sketch

Illustrator Brian Despain painted the final version for the August 2012 print issue (“Deadly Rays from Clouds” by By Joseph R. Dwyer and David M. Smith), and I animated it for our iPad edition. Very different in tone from the original sketch, but definitely inspired by it in content and care.

Dwyer final illustration

Brian Despain's final illustration

Dwyer animation

Animated version for iPad


The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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