Molecules in Action

Biophysical Journal author Erwin Frey and his group at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität (LMU) in Munich describe the illustration of their research that appears on the latest BiophysJ cover.

While we were already writing up our theoretical results, we realized the importance of finding a proper way to visually convey them to experimentalists. We concluded that a cover art depiction would be a good way to consolidate the key features of our work.


Christoph Hohmann, media designer at the research cluster “Nanosystems Initiative Munich” (NIM, http://www.nano-initiative-munich.de), created the image. We met and discussed how we could possibly combine our results into one picture—the difficulty was that the image should display the behavior of single molecules as well as their collective interplay.  Hopefully we succeeded.

Although the image gives a broad overview on what our research is about, caution is warranted, because the perspective one gains from it is of limited depth. In our case we found that traffic jams are important for microtubule depolymerization. The dynamics of these processes—the traffic jams as well as the microtubule shrinking—are time dependent phenomena; hence, one would really need a (cover) movie to illustrate the behavior, likewise the equations in our article suffice.

How one illustrates a scene of molecules in action is of course a matter of imagination. Our image shows how we believe that these molecular motors look on the microtubule. Probably one day there will be biophysical techniques that will permit such stunning close-ups of molecules, but until then the nanoscale view of the world depends on our fantasy and imagination. In this spirit, being a scientist always means being a bit of an artist as well— though perhaps it involves a different medium than what is found in the fine arts.

We are delighted to have our image on the cover of Biophysical Journal. And of course, we hope that it will attract readers and spark their interest in microtubules and the exciting things that are going on in this field. Aside from the scientific aspect, making the cover page, for us, was a moment for big grins, and high fives all around.

Find more recent research on our web page, http://www.theorie.physik.uni-muenchen.de/lsfrey/.

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