The science of cells paints a pretty picture
By Lisa Barrow
All images by David Goodsell
The bedrock of discovery is observation. But when it comes to the very, very small, to the molecular machines that power our bodies from the cells up, most of us simply can’t see what the experts see. We lack the equipment as much as the know-how.
Of course, seeing at these levels becomes a sticky wicket all its own. While a light microscope is good enough to viddy most cells in your body, the molecules that make up those cells are 1000 times teensier. They’re smaller than the wavelength of visible light—which means that what you and I know as sight, aka “light waves bouncing off of things and into our eyes,” doesn’t work on them. So even the very best light microscope mankind ever invents won’t be capable of showing a biological process at the molecular level.
That’s where a scientific demiurge like Dr. David Goodsell comes in. The associate professor of molecular biology at Scripps Research Institute is a respected author and artist who’s spent years translating the utterly tiny into the comprehensibly visual. Using techniques like x-ray crystallography, atomic force microscopy and NMR spectroscopy, Goodsell gets an understanding of how atoms are arranged in molecules and then translates that knowledge into an image that enhances human understanding. And more than that—his paintings and computer-aided renderings of E. coli, red blood cells, ATP synthase and other biological structures and processes are simply, inherently beautiful.
Goodsell’s original watercolors and illustrations are on display at the fifth annual The Art of Systems Biology and Nanoscience happening Friday and Saturday, March 28 and 29, at 333 Montezuma Arts in the Railyard Area of Santa Fe (333 Montezuma). From 7 to 8pm, scope out the complementary microscopy images and videos provided by UNM and LANL scientists. The next day, from 3:30 to 4:15pm, Goodsell gives a talk about his work “illustrating the machinery of life across scales from nanometers to micrometers.”
The Art of Systems Biology and Nanoscience brings hardcore science to the public with a lecture on Friday called “Coats, Collars and Accessories: the elegance of the cell’s endocytic machinery” presented by Dr. Sandra Schmid, department chair of the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center. “The Protein Dance: nanoscale views of molecular dynamics on cell membranes,” presented by UNM School of Medicine associate professor Dr. Diane Lidke, happens Saturday from 5:30 to 6:30pm. There’s even a nanotechnology exhibit geared toward the kiddos from 10am to 3pm on Saturday, as well as, for the first time, music: Christina Termini, UNM graduate student in Biomedical Sciences and Music, performs Density 21.5 by Edgar Varese: a flute solo accompanied by super-resolution microscopy images.
In other words, this year’s conference brings science to the senses in surprising and appealing ways. For a complete schedule, visit their website.
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