The Making of:

The Art of Theoretical Biology

Written by Franziska Matthäus (FIAS), Thomas Hillen (University of Alberta) - August 28, 2020

Cover photo:
The Ghost by Franziska Matthaeus, Damian Stichel, and Kai Breuhahn, photo courtesy of P, Vogel (FIAS)

The Art of Theoretical Biology

Franziska Matthäus, Sebastian Matthäus, Thomas Hillen (Editors)

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“A picture says more than a thousand words” – a proverb of great importance in the area of mathematical oncology. Have you ever been able to explain a model to a clinician based on formulas alone? We have not. However, a well-chosen figure can carry the discussion along. Over the years the careful crafting of scientific figures has resulted in stunning imagery. Illustrations that not only convey a scientific message, but images that strike a nerve in the beholder. Illustrations that inspire curiosity, creativity, and simple beauty. In “The Art of Theoretical Biology” (Springer 2020), we collected those images.

The original idea for this collection emerged in a discussion between Franziska Matthäus and her former PhD student Jan-Philip Schmidt, then working for Springer Publishing. During a workshop in Edinburgh, UK, in 2016, Franziska announced the idea and called for potential co-editors. Sarah Harris and Thomas Hillen were immediately excited and joined the editorial team, and we started to collect images and stories. In the process of repeated calls for contributions we realized that we needed support concerning the image preparation and page layout. Fortunately, Sebastian Matthäus, head of the graphic design firm Grenzfarben, in Berlin, Germany, agreed to join the team. From the formation of the editorial team to the release of the book, we spent four years of work on collecting contributions, adapting the images and text, and designing the layout of the book. From the 110 contributions, we selected 71 illustrations that are featured in high quality with accompanying stories about the science and the art work. We added a short description for each of the 120 authors and coauthors. About 30% of the contributions relate directly to cancer research, showcasing the breadth and depth of mathematical oncology.

Cellular Swarms

Cellular Swarms in Cellular Automata by Andreas Deutsch

During the process of editing this collection, we had the unique opportunity to showcase some of our images at the occasion of the Frankfurt Night of Science at the Riedberg Campus of the University of Frankfurt in June 2018. Supported by the Frankfurt Institute of Advanced Science, we printed huge banners from some of the images. The largest one “The Ghost” was printed on 8 meters by 20 meters canvas and attached outside the main lecture hall, see at the top of this post. (The total area of 160 m^2 (1722 sqft) is larger than Franziska’s home). Other images were displayed on the Riedberg Campus and inside of some of the buildings (see images). During the Frankfurt Night of Science we could experience first-hand that people were touched by these images. They stop, they watch, they speculate what they mean, and they take selfies with them. While the banners on the lecture hall had to be removed in early fall 2018, other images are decorating the corridors of the Biologicum and the Biocenter still today. If you happen to visit the Riedberg Campus, don’t miss to see them.

Interacting Spider Webs

Interacting Spider Webs by Jens Rieser, Daniel Bruness, Joerg Ackermann, and Ina Koch

Our intention is to use the power of images to reach out to scientists and non-scientists and increase the awareness of and the interest in the increasingly important field of theoretical biology. The stories behind each image are formulated in a very compact style, free of scientific jargon, and targeted at a wider audience using the scientists’ own words. While most people outside the scientific community would not, out of plain intrinsic interest, read scientific articles, they are nonetheless attracted to the images and become curious, especially because for most of the images it is not immediately apparent what is displayed. Connecting the images to the research story and the creation process allows the reader a short journey into a variety of exciting research topics. We hope that our book will show readers that science is exciting and full of beauty.

Cellular Connections

Cellular Connections by Roeland Merks

Our book brought the scientific researchers in the field of theoretical biology together in a joint project. When skimming through the book, one can find contributions of friends and colleagues. We are very grateful for the amazing contributions from the community and we hope that authors, friends, and anybody else, enjoys this collection of Art in Theoretical Biology. Antigenic Explosion

Antigenic Explosion by Chandler Gatenbee, Alexander R.A. Anderson

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