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Sciencemotionology asked David a couple of questions about his work and what he feels about receiving this award for his illustrations of the Ebola virus.

Sciencemotionology: How did you become interested in illustrating cellular structures?

David: I started doing these cellular illustrations during my postdoctoral work with Arthur Olson. Much of my research was very focused on a single topic, and the challenge of digging up all the information that I needed for the illustrations was a great way to step back and look at the larger body of scientific knowledge, and reconnect with my love of biology and natural history. 

Sciencemotionology: Gaël McGill mentioned your work as "visual reviews of the literature". Would you say that your illustrations are an integrative part of your research work?

David: Oh yes -- my work in visualization has always been tied closely to my research. For instance, as part of the HIVE Center, I'm currently working on some illustrations that will depict the different stages of the HIV life cycle and the viral and cellular molecules that are involved. The goal of these illustrations is to integrate what is known, and to highlight areas that are still in question.

Sciencemotionology: Have you ever felt the need to compromise scientific accuracy for the sake of aesthetics?

David: There are always compromises in the process of scientific visualization -- you need to decide what to include and what to omit for clarity. In my paintings, I make a bunch of aesthetic choices. For instance, one of the biggest examples of artistic license is the way I depict DNA strands. Normally they would be arranged in a big 3D tangle, and many would be clipped when I do my cross-sectional view. I tried this in early pictures, and it was very confusing. So now, I arrange most of the strands roughly parallel to the plane of the painting. It's not physically correct, but it produces a much more interpretable image.

Sciencemotionology: Science outreach is gaining momentum. How does the public react to your beautiful illustrations? 

Rather more as an art form?

David: Most people react to them as I originally intended: as a way to get feeling for the complex environment of the cell. Most of my commissions are also in this context, as illustrations for use in education or illustrations that help integrate the scientific results of a researcher. I have had the chance to do a few pieces that are meant more as fine art -- that's always a fun challenge.

Sciencemotionology: What does receiving this Wellcome Image Award 2016 mean to you?

David: It has been quite a thrill. Wellcome Images is performing a great service to the scientific community by make our imagery accessible to a wide audience. I'm very happy to be included as part of the effort.

HIV budding from the surface of an infected cell by David Goodsell

David S Goodsell, overall winner of the 2016 Wellcome Image Awards, is a Professor of Molecular Biology at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California. At the same time, he integrates illustrations into his work as part of an extensive structural research of the molecule that interests him at each time. He is adding a new colorful dimension to a wide range of molecules from the RCSB Protein Data Bank - unique images that are used to provide an educational and accessible way of understanding these intricate and fascinating structures.

The Wellcome Image Awards recognise the creators of the most informative, striking and technically excellent images that communicate significant aspects of biomedical science. 

Illustration of Escherichia coli from the book "The Machinery of Life", which shows the artistic license with the arrangement of DNA by David Goodsell

"The goal of these illustrations is to integrate what is known, and to highlight areas that are still in question"
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