She was searching for something to contribute to a professor’s birthday symposium when she started noticing images in the protein structures he had published: a birthday present, then a cat bringing a birthday cake. She made a simple animation of the images using PowerPoint so that she could contribute something to the celebration. “It was not very artistic in the beginning,” she recalls.
Most biochemists look to the Protein Data Bank for structural data, but Maja Klevanski looks to it for artistic inspiration. Klevanski, a graduate student at the University of Heidelberg, first got the idea of translating the ribbon models of protein structures into art when she was preparing her diploma thesis at Harvard.
But over time, her method has become more elaborate. To find her images, she rotates protein structures until she begins to see something interesting and then begins a painstaking process of drawing over the structure, redrawing and tweaking the rotation until the image in her mind is fully realized on the page.
Last year, a collage of her work titled “Nature playing chess” reached the top 10 in the illustration category of the 2012 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. She says she hopes to publish a book one day that combines her art with the science behind it. “But, first of all, I have to finish my Ph.D.!” she says.
You can find more of her work at her website, where she also takes requests to re-imagine your favorite protein: www.protein-art.com.
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