One of my goals in life, which I can now say has been accomplished, is to make biology look like astrophysics. Call it my love for the Torino Impact Hazard Scale.
Recently, I was given an opportunity to attend to this (admittedly vague) goal when Linda Chang from Aly Karsan's group approached me with some microscopy photos of mouse veins. I was asked to do "something" with these images for a cover submission to accompany the manuscript.
When people see my covers, sometimes they ask "How did you do that?" Ok, actually they never ask this. But being a scientist, I'm trained me to produce answers in anticipation of such questions. So, below, I show you how the image was constructed.
The image was published on the cover of PNAS (PNAS 1 May 2012; 109 (18))
Below are a few of the images I had the option to work with. These are mouse embryonic blood vessels, with a carotid artery shown in the foreground with endothelial cells in green, vascular smooth muscle cells in red and the nuclei in blue.
Of course, as soon as I saw the images, I realized that there was very little that I needed to do to trigger the viewer's imagination. These photos were great!
Immediately I thought of two episodes of Star Trek (original series): Doomsday Machine and the Immunity Syndrome, as well as of images from the Hubble Telescope.
I though it would be pretty easy to make the artery images look all-outer-spacey. They already looked it.
And then I saw the image below.
The background was created from the two images shown here. The second image was sampled three times, at different rotations.
The channel mixer was used to remove the green channel and leave only red and blue.
The next layer was composed of what looked like ribbons of blue gas. This was created by sampling the oval shapes from the source images. Here the red channel was a great source for cloud shapes, and this was the only channel that was kept. The hue was shifted to blue and a curve adjustment was applied to increase the contrast.
When the foreground and middle ground elements were combined, the result was already 40 parsecs away.
The foreground was created from the spectacular comet-like image of a mouse artery. Very little had to be done to make this element look good. It already looked good.
I applied a little blur using Alien Skin's Bokeh 2 to narrow the apparent depth of field, masked out elements at the bottom of the image and removed some of the green channel. The entire blue channel was removed altogether (this gave the tail of the comet a mottled, flame-like appearance).
And here we have the final image.
For specialists, visualizations should expose detail to allow for exploration and inspiration. For enthusiasts, they should provide context, integrate facts and inform. For the layperson, they should capture the essence of the topic, narrate a story and deligt.
Wired's Brandon Keim wrote up a short article about me and some of my work—Circle of Life: The Beautiful New Way to Visualize Biological Data.
Experimental designs that lack power cannot reliably detect real effects. Power of statistical tests is largely unappreciated and many underpowered studies continue to be published.
This month, Naomi and I explain what power is, how it relates to Type I and Type II errors and sample size. By understanding the relationship between these quantities you can design a study that has both low false positive rate and high power.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of Significance: Power and Sample Size Nature Methods 12:1139-1140.
20 Tips for Interpreting Scientific Claims is a wonderful comment in Nature warning us about the limits of evidence.
Sutherland WJ, Spiegelhalter D & Burgman M (2013) Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims. Nature 503:335–337.
Have you wondered how statistical tests work? Why does everyone want such a small P value?
This month, Naomi and I explain how significance is measured in statistics and remind you that it does not imply biological significance. You'll also learn why the t-distribution is so important and why its shape is similar to that of a normal distribution, but not quite.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of Significance: Significance, P values and t-tests Nature Methods 11:1041-1042.