Scientists Color Viruses, Turning Them into Works of Art

HIV, Ebola and Zika are ugly, ugly viruses. But there is a biologist who makes them beautiful, even charismatic: David Goodsell comes from Scripps Research Center in San Diego, California, USA.

He was named the colorist of the biological world. There are cells, bacteria, viruses living below nanometer resolution, where human vision cannot be reached. But that small world was exaggerated by Goodsell, accurately and visually redrawing in watercolor.

Goodsell’s work carries in it both science and art. It requires him to carry out his own research, using high-power microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, X-ray crystallography and spectroscopy techniques, magnetic resonance to study the structure of biological molecule.

The correctly drawn pictures appeared on the cover of many scientific journals. Some are also hung in luxurious guest rooms. That’s how Goodsell makes science become closer, bringing them to every home.

Goodsell was a crystallographer, his work in the 1980s using X-ray machines to photograph crystals, how the atoms in that crystal were arranged. Goodsell began using computer graphics programs to redraw these crystals.

He was one of the first to apply graphics and science, when computer graphics were often used to create simulated flights for pilot training. Wanting to go back to biology, he posed a challenge: Can he draw a picture of magnifying a cell with every organ in their place.

And so he chose to paint E. coli because at that time there was a lot of scientific data that allowed to reconstruct this bacterium correctly on paper. Goodsell has spent a lot of time looking back on all the research on this bacterial structure.

The first drawing was done in watercolor, the watercolor painting skills that Goodsell learned from his grandfather from a young age. He only uses colors that I like, and he thinks colors will allow you to distinguish the different functions of bacteria.