New BJ Cover Doesn’t Sacrifice Science for Aesthetics

ImageThis issue’s cover doesn’t look like the beautiful protein structures or micrographs that often grace the front of Biophysical Journal—it might just look like layers of brightly-colored candy. But it is drawn from real data and represents a real (and really colorful) biophysical system: the photosynthetic light-harvesting and charge conversion apparatus in stacked thylakoid membranes. Our computational model of the protein-protein interactions within and between these membrane layers is simple enough to access large length scales (the image represents hundreds of nanometers), yet rich enough to capture structural motifs such as inter-membrane correlations and to predict thermodynamic phase behavior that could affect photosynthetic function.

While building and studying this model, we found visualization to be indispensible for extracting insight from data; visualization came before discovery, not just after. The multilayered structure of our configurations was difficult to visualize clearly using traditional software, prompting us to develop a suite of tools for reproducibly creating graphics that illuminate particular research questions. For the image on the cover, I collaborated with Lester Hedges (a fellow statistical mechanician and my boyfriend) to connect the existing scripts to POV-Ray, a command-line raytracing program that he has used to create other journal cover art. He and I both enjoyed the challenge of creating a computer-generated image that is at once visually striking and scientifically meaningful.

Anna Schneider is a grad student in the Geissler group and an editor of the Berkeley Science Review.

Written by Anna Schneider