What makes a good visualisation?
Other than good data, first and foremost, visualisations must tell a story. What makes this interesting? Is it unusual, impactful, or timely? Or does it just have pretty colours?
Here are some examples of great science visualisations I’ve found.
1. COVID-19 Spike Protein
This was the cover image for the Science 9th October issue. Isn’t it gorgeous? Here, the artistic rendering of the protein was based on a combination of data about the surface contours, models of molecular structure, and simulations of how the molecules would move.
This pretty collection of blobs represents a surface molecule on the COVID-19 virus, a spike protein that the primary target for the vaccine. Its creation represents the work of many teams of scientists in different fields, and the fact that we can see this less than a year after the virus was identified is testament to the astounding speed and volume of new data being generated about this novel coronavirus.
2. Stages of Decomposition
Isn’t this way more memorable than the typical series of diagrams in textbooks?
Pictures do say a thousand words. Can you identify the peach flush on the fresh finger, the slight bloating and paleness of the second, the decomposer activity of the third, the crumbling of the fourth, and the pale starkness of bone in the fifth finger?
This infographic stands out with its unusual medium, the easily relatable subject of a human hand, and genius simplicity of relating the five stages to the five fingers.
Source: @calicoranger on Instagram
3. Cholera Map
No list of great visualisations would be complete without the cholera map by the father of epidemiology, John Snow.
London in 1854 experienced a deadly cholera outbreak. John Snow and other scientists went door to door to document the number of cholera cases in the area, then drew them as black bars onto the street map. Can you tell which part of the street is most affected?
Like you, they found that cholera cases were concentrated around Broad Street, which was also the location of the water pump that these people primarily used (see the dot labelled ‘pump’).
Quelling the epidemic was then as simple as preventing access to the source of infection, the pump. Even today, such an impactful and simple visualisation is rare.
Source: National Geographic
This list merely gives a few very different examples of good data visualisation. It is by no means exhaustive or the best.
What inspiring visualisations have you seen lately?