Watch Proteins Do the Jitterbug

Watch Proteins Do the Jitterbug

THE CROWDED CELL: A jumble of proteins inside the cell, visualized in a scientific animation.
Credit: Harvard University, XVIVO Scientific Animation

When we first released “The Inner Life of Cell” back in 2006, we were met with kudos and awe. What we had chosen to depict, for the sake of clarity, was open intracellular space, and the smooth, almost premeditated action taken by molecules within the cell. Of course, this was somewhat of a misrepresentation; we have long known that the inside of a cell is packed full of proteins, and ones that don’t remain still nor glide toward their destinations. At that scale, and in that environment, nearly everything that happens is guided by intermolecular chaos and the rules of probability.

Though we may often take some artistic liberties for the sake of clarity, what we realized about this visualization was that it seemed to discount how diseases develop internally. “Inner Life of the Cell” was about a healthy leukocyte responding to an inflammatory signal, but it provided no hints into how diseases might progress in the absence of external sources. So, together with our collaborators over at Harvard, we decided to create “Protein Packing.” We hope that in our newest piece, our viewers can appreciate and speculate how small disturbances in that sort of chaotic environment could drastically alter the function of the cell, leading to much broader consequences. We hope that this gives people a better, clearer lens through which to think about our body and what goes on inside it.

Our animation was featured in the NYTimes today by Carl Zimmer, who discusses many of the ideas we mentioned above. Head over to the website and read his piece, “Watch Proteins Do the Jitterbug.” We couldn’t be more thrilled to have our work recognized, and extend to him our sincerest thanks!

Link to Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/10/science/watch-proteins-do-the-jitterbug.html?ref=science

A New Inner Life

Protein Packing. The inside of a cell

Protein Packing – Inner Life Of The Cell Animation

It’s been a while since our last scientific animation for Harvard’s ‘Inner Life of the Cell’ series, but our team is thrilled to finally announce the release of our newest addition, titled ‘Protein Packing’. What our first two animations depicted, somewhat misleadingly, was a vast intracellular space and the smooth, assembly-line movement of proteins and molecules. But the reality is that the inside of a cell is actually extremely chaotic, packed to the brim with jittering proteins that bump into other, often times with no effect, occasionally with more serious effects.

Let our classical score carry you beyond the limits of the naked eye to witness this molecular “dance.” We’ve amped up our color palette to something a bit brighter, and re-envisioned our beloved kinesin molecule based on new research from our scientific collaborators over at Harvard, Dr. Robert Lue and Dr. Alain Veil. We thank all of our fans for their continuing support, and hope that you enjoy our newest piece.

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Winter in the New Office

Well, it’s not quite winter yet, but it certainly feels like it.

Breaking into our new office space has been a blast. With great lighting and colorful walls, we’re really starting to achieve our goal of looking like our scientific illustrations. Dare you to find us another medical animation studio with a giant graffiti logo plastered across their wall. Check out this time-lapse of Mike and Helena doing their thing, with a special guest appearance by yours truly.

http://vimeo.com/78652213

With the increase in floor space, I’ve even found myself getting a fitdesk and putting it in the office, forcing our clients to unwittingly listen to my workout session as we discuss projects.

More than just me trying to get back into shape, though, a lot has been changing around the office lately. With new projects and ideas looking ahead and people shuffling around, it’s really been a season filled with moments of intense stress and excitement. But no matter what, we refuse to have our creative juices stifled by burnout. We’re a team that will always play as hard as we work.

Stay tuned, because we have some really exciting things to show on the horizon!

Nerd Camp at Google

It’s been a week or so since the last blog post — you’d think there would be a lot to say and show about Sci Foo Camping two weekends ago. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the building, so I can’t show you guys the awesome heated toilet seats at Googleplex.

Instead, I want to talk about the structure, or rather [non]structure of Sci Foo. Its deviation from the traditional conference format allows for a level of excitement, communication, and shared interest between people hard to achieve otherwise. For those that are not familiar with Sci Foo, it is a yearly event held at the Googleplex in San Francisco – currently hosted by Google, Digital Science, O’Reilly Media, and Nature Publishing Group. This invitation-only event is meant to bring together people from varying fields all throughout science and technology, and see what comes about from the ensuing mingling. This format has come to be known as an unconference.

This is not to say there is no direction in an unconference; in fact, it’s easy to see just how quickly an unconference can fall apart if improperly designed. Fortunately, our wonderful Sci Foo organizers knew what they were doing, and led us to produce one of the most intellectually-stimulating weekends I’ve had all year.

So what really happens here? Essentially, that’s all up to us. After a period of basically just hanging out, talking about ourselves and seeing the amazing things others are doing, we (250+ of us) are presented with a giant blank schedule. We fight for space on the board to pitch a discussion topic, and then split into more intimate sessions where we can really engage with these ideas. Depending on your sociability and who you managed to spark a mutual interest with prior, it is certainly not out of the question to collaborate on a discussion topic or even a future project. More than just place for networking, though, this a time where people can really see their work put in perspective, and really build an appreciation for ideas and directions they might never get a chance to hear about.

As for me, a trained artist in a sea of scientists and techies, it might be reasonable to assume I was out of place. But actually, Sci Foo works its magic by making similar subject-expertise out to seem boring. Everyone seems eager to learn something new, to have their ignorance torn by the sheer wow-factor of ideas they couldn’t possibly dream of. And the best thing about it is: its a shared sentiment, all the way from the big guys up top to the little guy that’s just making his contribution to the world – and its all incredibly humbling.

Thanks to all my fellow Sci Foo Campers and our gracious hosts, and I hope to find myself in another unconference of this sort in the near future.

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A peek into our “Inner Life” story

As we get closer to our much-anticipated weekend at the Googleplex for some Sci Foo Camping fun, we’re reminded of the journey we’ve taken over the past few years that has brought us into notice both at home and abroad. Given our blossoming adolescence, we think its time to get a little nostalgic, give thanks to our influences, and remember everyone that was with us along the way.

Our biggest break probably came in 2007, when we were honored with the chance to speak at the esteemed TED conference about the philosophy behind our work. Held yearly on the West Coast, TED has become one of the most regarded events for its multidisciplinary and innovative approach at sharing new or underrepresented ideas. It was here, on a big stage in front of the largest crowd we’ve yet to encounter, that we debuted a 3-minute clip from our now-popular The Inner Life of the Cell, and made a statement about the artistic and educational potential realizable through scientific animation. In our brief 9-minute session, we discussed ideas regarding truth and beauty, and ruminated over the saddening, yet ubiquitous irreflective attitude we tend toward subjects outside our own fields of interest. We conjectured that this habit of presenting things as dry and void of profundity distances us from one another, and results in a miasma of cultural insensitivity.

Inner Life was the first installment for a series of shorts for Harvard College’s department of Molecular and Cellular Biology – a project on which we are still actively working on. While we had already managed to gain the attention of people within the science and medicine industry, it was really at TED where our whispers were given the chance to reach more varied ears.

Since TED, we have had the luxury of working with a host of brilliant people in developing compelling visuals to enhance their message and vision for a better future. For Seth Berkley, medical epidemiologist and CEO of the GAVI Alliance, we create a short visualization of the HIV and flu viruses to illustrate the complexities of their biology. Dr. Berkley discussed the advances we’ve made toward a more thorough understanding of these terrible diseases, and gave us a glimpse into a future where millions of unnecessary deaths could be avoided each year.

We have also had the chance to involve ourselves with more specialized TED groups, namely TEDMED, a conference devoted specifically toward thoughts on medical technology and healthcare. For Sheila Nirenberg, investigator at Cornell University, we helped elucidate the potential for reversing blindness through the use of sophisticated microchip prosthetics. And for Danny Hillis, we designed some short medical illustrations to depict new directions being undertaken in cancer treatment.

One of our most exciting projects actually came in the form of an art installation, which is currently being housed at Chicago’s own Museum of Science and Industry. In collaboration with a handful of amazing companies, we helped develop a gigantic interactive heart. This 13-feet high, 8-feet wide, 2-and-a-half-D beast of an organ is able to sync to your own pulse, and reveal to you the inner and outer workings of your heart. We firmly believe in the role of great art in education, and it was a blast to get to play a part in this installation.

Naturally, as a medical animation studio, our primary job is to enhance visions. Through our visuals, aimed at tearing down walls of jargon, we hope to inspire fellow thinkers and doers alike, and let others know beauty can be found even in the most unlikely places. This was just a brief run-down of some of our work and history, and we hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know us! Feel free to leave comments, tell us a bit about yourself, and let us know what you think.

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