Art for chemistry’s sake

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Good news – our November issue has gone live. This one has a nice orange and black cover in time for Halloween, but more importantly, has some interesting science, including a story of sulfur sitting on a sugar sidechain, a synthesis of a smelly Streptomyces shape, and a saga about small signalling structures starting S-guanylation. We also announce some changes to the journal in our editorial; the most significant, perhaps, is that we will no longer be publishing Letters starting in 2008.

The issue also includes a commentary that talks about the intersection of science and art. In particular, David Goodsell is a practicing professor who creates artwork that, by faithfully capturing the molecular details of biomolecules, and their concentrations, locations, and functions, provides new insights into the workings of biological systems.

Along those same lines, I have been thinking recently about how people really internalize an understanding of different chemical and biological systems. Since (like many people, I assume) I learned about biology by looking at drawings that show a small nucleus and a couple of folds of the ER in a vast, otherwise empty cytosol, my first response to Dr. Goodsell’s images is always, ‘Gosh, it’s so crowded in there!’ A friend also recently passed along this YouTube video of people recreating protein synthesis in an elaborate outdoor dance (and, of course, there’s always the integrin dance which I discussed a long time ago). Finally, I will never forget an organic professor I had who taught us about the relative flexibility of 5-membered rings vs. 6-membered rings by linking his arms together at various points and flapping them all around. What explanations or images have stuck with you guys such that you will never forget about ‘random science thing X’? Or – what topics need to have their own imagery/dance/art to help you understand/remember how the process works?

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)