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H. Adam Steinberg

H. Adam Steinberg

Artist and Scientist H. Adam Steinberg, who innovated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Biochemistry Media Lab for 20 years, founded ArtforScience in 2009 to help faculty and scientists communicate their research data in books, grants, talks, publications, posters, and websites. Adam's illustrations, molecular graphics, and schematics of biological data have been published in many of the widely-used textbooks, including Lehninger Biochemistry, Lodish Molecular Cell Biology, Freeman Biological Science, and others. His visual interpretations of scientific data are also in hundreds of scientific journal articles and his work has been featured on the covers of Cell, Science, and Nature, among others. His real passion is for using artistic principles and his understanding of science to help researchers better comprehend their data. Simply visualizing the data always changes the understanding of how it interacts and functions in both micro and macro environments. His other passion is teaching others how to visualize and communicate their science in both lectures and symposiums, and though scientific posters. He has been teaching these principles to undergrads, grads, post docs and faculty for more than 15 years.

“To make any impact, research has to be communicated, and for that to happen, visualization is an essential tool." —H. Adam Steinberg

Conducted and contributed by Brian | May 2013

“When I go to seminars I am always doing mental images. It never stops.”

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Featured songs: "Yet Again" by Grizzly Bear and "Helicopter" by Deerhunter

Conversation Highlights

Have you ever dreamed about seeing your research featured on the cover of Cell, Science, or Nature? Artist, scientist, and scientific interpreter H. Adam Steinberg knows how to visually interpret your scientific data to make this dream a reality. A quick glance at some of the visually arresting images from Adam’s portfolio at ArtforScience demonstrates his understanding that a picture is worth 1000 words. So how does he do it you ask? He constantly thinks in images. In this Spotlight Conversation, we sit down with Adam to get a better grasp on how to ‘facilitate scientific discovery through data visualization’.

“Many times the science that I get a hold of, or that people bring to me, is science that they don’t really understand. Even though they are discovering it and figuring it out, they do not know all the details yet and they will ask me to visualize it.”

“From when I was a little kid, I was always interested in art and was always interested in science. It never made sense to do anything else. That’s all I ever thought of – doing art and doing science. It just made perfect sense to me. Although, as I tried to pursue that over the years, I had quite a lot of trouble at different spots. Most people don’t put those two things together.”

“When I go to a seminar, and I go to a lot of seminars, I want to be entertained by the scientists. I want to hear a good talk. So the more people I can reach, the better the talks will get and the better the communication will get.”

“I want the communication to be there and I want it to be great.”

“My work comes in waves. I frequently get overloaded with easily 100 hours a week. Obviously you cannot do that every week or you would be burned out.”

“I really think in our future coming up here, more and more people will be working from their homes. And that is a great thing. You have to be a little driven and a little focused because, yes, there are many distractions around your house that could easily take you away from the work.”

“I have an incredible passion for doing this work, so to me, many times the work is pulling me in and away from the distractions because it’s so fascinating and interesting.”

“There’s many times when I am working on something when the clock is ticking and I have no idea. That is always as sign that you love what you are doing.”

“All the benefits clearly outweigh that [disadvantages] – I work out of my own home, I can schedule my own hours whenever I want, I can take time off when I need to or not need to. But if I have deadlines, I have to meet them, and then take the time off. It is really fascinating and phenomenal to work out of my own house. It allows me to volunteer at local schools and to help kids and teach them, in high schools too.”

“I do see things in pictures.”

“I sit and draw pictures of what people are saying. That’s my doodle. I’ve been in many, many meetings where people have gone on and on and on, and I’ve drawn the picture of what they’ve taken an hour to say – that they could’ve just put the picture up. When I am in those situations I will talk with those people afterwards and say, next time let’s get together and I’ll help you go over your stuff, give you some relevant images that you are giving me from your word to make your seminar or your talk or meeting go quicker and easier.”

“[In college] I would focus on things they were saying and showing. There wasn’t a single professor who I did not go up to afterwards, many times after the lecture, and say 'hey when you showed this and said that, there is a much better way in doing that'. I couldn’t help myself in critiquing them. Almost all of them thanked me.”