Artistic display of science

Poster illustrating the trapping mechanism of the common bladderwort

Wai-Man Chan designed an illustration of the trapping mechanisms in the common bladderwort, a plant that lives in fresh water. “I’ve always loved art, I’ve always loved science,” says Chan, a master’s student in biomedical visualization. Illustration: Wai-Man Chan

When artful 3-D animation is applied to a complex scientific concept, clear and beautiful creations come to life.

UIC student Wai-Man Chan was recognized for her visualization work by being selected as an “Experts’ Choice” winner in the 2016 Vizzies, a National Science Foundation competition for “the most beautiful visualizations from the worlds of science and engineering.” Cari Jones, a 2014 biomedical visualization graduate, was also selected as a finalist for the award.

Chan, a student in the master’s program in biomedical visualization, crafted a detailed illustration of the trapping mechanisms in the common bladderwort, a rootless, flowering plant that lives in fresh water. The inspiration for her depiction arose after a visit to the carnivorous plant section in the Field Museum, but her interest in 3-D modeling was present long before.

“It’s a very niche field,” Chan said. “I’ve always loved art, I’ve always loved science, so to be able to visualize science and create educational materials for the public has become really important to me.”

Chan stressed the importance of simplicity in design.

“First you have to make something that looks good,” she said. “Then you have to make it in a way where you’re simplifying very complex science so you’re able to get your message across and really entertain your viewer.”

Competition entries were judged on their ability to communicate clearly, as well as on aesthetic appeal and uniqueness of composition.

“Sometimes the best stories are ones that simplify things, say things really directly, and introduce people to new concepts that they’ve never heard about before,” she said.

Chan, who graduates in May, aspires to own her own business.

“I want to say, ‘Here’s a problem,’ and ask, ‘What is the best way to solve that problem?’” she said.  “I love to troubleshoot.”