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SA Visual

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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 Oceans’ Origins and the Evolution of a SciAm Infographic


    When it comes to developing an illustrated information graphic, sometimes you don’t really know what sorts of details you’re going to need until you dive in and start drawing. That was certainly the case for a timeline of the events that led to the development of Earth’s oceans, which appeared in “Oceans from the Skies” by [...]

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    Pop Culture Pulsar: Origin Story of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures Album Cover [Video]

    Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division

    Sure, I was familiar with the graphic—and I’m not alone. Drop this image (right) on someone’s desk and chances are they’ll reflexively blurt, “Joy Division.” The band’s 1979 Unknown Pleasures album cover leaned entirely on a small mysterious data display, printed in white on black. No band name, album title or other identifiers. An interesting [...]

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    How to Choose the Form of an Infographic: It’s All about Context


    As a graphics designer, I have a love/hate relationship with circles. The humble form provides a relief from rigid rectangular chart structures that are pinned to x- and y-axes. The shape can certainly help to enliven a page and engage a reader. Using circles may come at a cost, however. The ability of a reader [...]

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    Math Is Beautiful, But Is It Art?


    Every so often, beauty comes up as a topic of conversation in editorial meetings at Scientific American. Surely there’s an article, or series of articles that we can develop on the topic? After all, it’s not unusual for theories and/or equations to be described as beautiful. Our conversations circle around to perception and aesthetics and [...]

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    The Influential Murals (Really!) of Scientific American Founder Rufus Porter


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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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