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SA Visual


Illustrating science since 1845
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    The world of science visuals has become a large and varied place. In this blog we call out great art and design from our hallowed pages and elsewhere.

    The SA Visual writers:
    Michael Mrak, Jen Christiansen, Monica Bradley, Jason Mischka, Ryan Reid, Jason Arias, Liz Tormes and Bernard Lee.
  • The Influential Murals (Really!) of Scientific American Founder Rufus Porter

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    Perhaps the tweet below from editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina last weekend shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, I knew that Rufus Porter, founding editor and publisher of Scientific American, was a well-rounded fellow. From Frank Luther Mott’s Pulitzer-Prize winning series A History of American Magazines (Volume 2): “The founder of the Scientific American was one [...]

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    The Evolution of a Scientific American Information Graphic: Clues to Dampening Pain

    Pain detail

    Every graphic is a new adventure. Some of our magazine articles involve abstract concepts that require lots of time and energy at the front-end, making decisions about what, exactly should be illustrated. For others, the crux is more obvious, and clearly illustratable. That was the case when it came to “Pain That Won’t Quit” in [...]

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    Mars’s First Close-up

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    Today marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Mariner IV spacecraft (November 28, 1964). In total, the mission gave us 21 complete images of Mars, including this, our first close view of the planet—courtesy of data transmitted by the interplanetary probe and earth-bound scientists wielding pastels (below). How did the image come to [...]

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    SA Recognized for Great Infographics

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    I’m thrilled to report that two Scientific American graphics (on bees and caffeine) are featured in The Best American Infographics 2014. The book, which is edited by Gareth Cook, includes an impressive range of graphic styles and subject matter—from a fresh look at T. Rex (Nature) to an illustrated and playful look at the evolution of Justin [...]

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    Visualizing 4-Dimensional Asteroids

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    Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Jake VanderPlas, a data scientist who worked on the Graphic Science illustration in the October issue of Scientific American magazine. One of the largest treasure troves of astronomical data comes from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), an ongoing scan of the firmament that began 15 [...]

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    Art and Science of the Moiré

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    I’m a bit obsessed with Scientific American covers, but my knowledge of the archive during the years before my time on staff is broad rather than deep. Artist Philippe Decrauzat, on the other hand, has developed an intense connection with a very specific cover image: May 1963. It was the inspiration point for his series [...]

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    A Monkey’s Blueprint

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    Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Martin Krzywinski, a contributing artist who designed the Graphic Science illustration in the September issue of Scientific American magazine. For a graphic in the September 2014 issue of Scientific American, the editors challenged me to visually support the statement that we’re more like chimps and bonobos [...]

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    Beyond Classic Brain Illustrations That Make Us Drool

    From The Anatomy of the Brain Explained in a Series of Engravings, by Sir Charles Bell, 1802 (Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London)

    I threw down a bit of a challenge last month at the Association of Medical Illustrators Conference in Minnesota. But first, I had to—somewhat unexpectedly—accept some challenges presented by others. And face the reality that some of us simply do not have the constitution of an anatomist. I love classic anatomical illustrations such as the [...]

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    A Look under the Hood of Online Data Visualization

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    Andy Kirk (of Visualising Data) recently published a clever image-driven post in which he uses automobiles to make a series of points about the practice of data visualization. Interestingly, cars also came to my mind when reflecting upon a data visualization gathering held a few weeks ago. OpenVis Conference is an annual event (now in [...]

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    On Climate Surveys, the People Agree—Mostly [Interactive]

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    It’s interesting to see how different points can pique the interest of different people looking at the same data set. My colleague Mark Fischetti (senior editor and partner-in-crime for many of the Graphic Science items in the magazine) was intrigued by bipartisan agreement on questions related to global warming in the survey results shown in [...]

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