An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system. The left image shows the Antikythera, the oldest known orrery. The middle image shows a virtual reconstruction. The right image shows a contemporary orrery. The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient analog computer designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses. It was recovered in 1900–01 from the Antikythera wreck, a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. The instrument was designed […]
Although today computer graphics is often used for doing flow visualization, a range of physical methods exist that can visualize flows in-place. Leonardo da Vinci was presumably one of the first to use these methods: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) also developed techniques for observing the wind (by generating smoke in a tube and adding it to the wind at suitable points). Most important of […]
A Galileo thermometer consists of a set of floaters immersed in a clear liquid (typically ethanol) inside a sealed glass tube. Today a floater is typically a glass sphere containing a colored liquid and to which is attached a metallic temperature tag. The composition of a floater is irrelevant, its overall density just needs to be calibrated to a certain value and remain stable. Floaters being made of glass and metal, their volume – […]
During the 18th century, instrument maker George Adams built and sold solid 3D geometric models as educational complements to the 2D images found in Euclid's Elements of Geometry. As argued by a 18th-century author: It is almost as necessary as in mechanics, to exhibit the objects, whose qualities are to be taught; and to call in the joint assistance of the hands and eyes. According to […]
Left image: As part of its 2014 exhibition entitled Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology, the London Science Museum showcased this very accurate and intricate papier-mâché brain model from 1900 that shows path of nerve fibers. French physician Louis Thomas Jerôme Auzoux developed this technique around 1820 due to the shortage of human cadavers and wax models to study human anatomy. He was inspired by papier-mâché dolls that were […]
August Wilhelm Hofmann was the first to introduce physical representations of molecules into lectures during his Friday Evening Discourses presentation "On the Combining Power of Atoms" at London's Royal Institution of Great Britain in . He introduced a colored set of four croquet balls to represent atoms (hydrogen, oxygen, chlorine and nitrogen), implanted with a fixed number of sticks corresponding to each atom's valence. Thus we distinguish the chlorine atom as univalent, […]
Mechanical arrangement adapted to illustrate structure in the non-saturated hydrocarbons by the chemist James Dewar. The model is made of bars, clamped together so as to allow free motion. In order to make the combination look like an atom, a thin round disc of blackened brass can be placed under the central nut. At the ends of the arms are holes to connect […]
Kundt's tube is an apparatus invented in 1866 by German physicist August Kundt for measuring the speed of sound. It mostly consists of a transparent tube of adjustable length with powder in it. Sound is produced at one end of the tube, and the tube's length is adjusted until the sound becomes louder, indicating the tube is at resonance and the sound forms a standing wave. […]
A physical visualization by Scottish physicist James Maxwell (left), constructed over the course of about seven months, from November 1874 to July 1875, based on the descriptions of thermodynamics surfaces described in two 1873 papers by American engineer Willard Gibbs. The molded shape depicts the geometry of the three-dimensional thermodynamic surface of the various states of existence of water: solid, liquid, orgas, shown on Cartesian coordinates of the entropy (x), volume (y), and energy (z) […]
Van’t Hoff disseminated his stereochemical ideas to leading chemists of the day by sending them 3-D paper models of tetrahedral molecules, like these now housed in the Leiden Museum. There might be some difficulty in following my reasoning. I felt this myself, and I have made use of cardboard figures to facilitate the representation. Not wanting to require too much of the reader I will […]
The Winogradsky column, invented by Sergei Winogradsky, consists in a transparent cylinder for analyzing microbial life by observing how the metabolism of micro-organisms evolve over time in stratified layers. By producing a small closed ecosystem, the column enables observing how bacteria can survive by providing a temporal and spatial visualization of layers such as in ecology, microbiology. Sources: The Microbiome of Your Gut Winogradsky Column—Microbial Evolution in […]
Model by Alexander Crum Brown (1838-1922) of a half-twist mathematical surface, featuring a non-Euclidean so-called Klein bottle, c. 1900. Sources: Photo from the Science Museum, London, textual description courtesy of Klaus Hentschel. For more, see Klaus Hentschel (2014): Visual Cultures in Science, Technology and Medicine, pp. 96ff. and pl. XIV.
The physical model on the left is a bivariate histogram showing the correlation between the heights of fathers (horizontal axis) and sons ("vertical" axis). This data was famously collected by Karl Pearson and Alice Lee between 1893 and 1898. The physical visualization is thought to have been constructed around this time period or soon after, possibly under the supervision of Pearson. It is kept at the Department of Statistical Science, University […]
Dr. Don Stedman from the National Research Council Canada designed this 3-D periodic table in the 1940s. Stedman considered many factors and characteristics of the elements as he designed his models. While in this model all the usual groups of elements are found, changes from one group to another are also represented, and their origins are more easily understood. Stedman believed that his model gave […]
Electron density map and model of Penicillin created by Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1945 based on her work on X-ray crystallography. The Penicillin molecule was the first molecule whose structure was derived entirely from X-ray data. Dorothy Hodgkin later received the Nobel price for applying the same technique to determine the structure of the B12 molecule. Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-94) was awarded the prestigious and exclusive […]
Nobel prize winning crystallographer Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin created another physical visualization in the mid 1940's, showing part of the structure of penicillin. An original of this artifact is in the Oxford Museum of the History of Science. This technique recently inspired artist Angela Palmer for her glass portraits. Sources: Lachlan Michael and David Cranswicka (2008) Busting out of crystallography's Sisyphean prison: from pencil and paper to structure […]
A microtiter plate is an array of chemical test tubes called "wells", invented in 1951 by a Hungarian medical doctor. They are used in a variety of experimental designs, most typically biochemistry assays. The picture above is an example of a colorimetric assay result. Most of the time, they are not directly interpreted visually, as in this example, but are instead put into a plate […]
In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick suggested what is now accepted as the first correct double-helix model of DNA structure in the journal Nature. Their double-helix, molecular model of DNA was then based on a single X-ray diffraction image taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling in May 1952, as well as the information that the DNA bases are paired. Experimental evidence supporting the […]
Left image: The very first physical model of a protein (myoglobin) built by crystallographer John Kendrew in 1957 using plasticine. The image is from a 1958 Nature article, for a more recent photo see here. In 1960 Kendrew completed a higher-resolution skeletal model known as the "forest of rods". The model was 2-meter wide, made of brass, and supported with 2,500 vertical rods, making it […]
The object on the left may be one of the first sound sculptures. It appears in a 1960 book by German acoustician and musicologist Fritz Winckel (click on the middle image to see the full page). It is a physical 3D spectrogram showing a frequency analysis of an 8-second recording of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony. The left axis is frequency, the bottom/right axis is time, and the vertical […]
In the early 1970's, crystallographer Byron Rubin invented a tool that bends wires to make proteins models. The tool was popular until the 1990s. Byron Rubin became an artist who builds large-scale molecular sculptures. Eric Martz and Eric Francoeur explain how such physical models yielded important scientific insights: An example illustrating the importance of models from Byron's Bender occurred at a scientific meeting in the mid 1970's. At this time, less than two […]
In 1995, Mike Bailey from the San Diego Supercomputer Center created the SDSC TeleManufacturing Facility to help scientists visualize their data in physical form. In 1997, the facility produced one of the first digitally-fabricated molecular models using laminated object manufacturing. The biochemists involved in the project got insights that they were not able to get from the on-screen 3D models, and concluded that: modern physical models are important tools that significantly […]
Artist Bathsheba Grossman has been 3D printing mathematical surfaces as early as 1997. In 2002 she started to use subsurface laser engraving to produce 3D physical visualizations of data from astronomy, biology, and physics. Left image: a piece of DNA molecule. Right image: a 3D map of our nearby stars. The artist explains to us: This medium excels at imaging less structural data such as disconnected volumes, non-compact point clouds, […]
In 2004, the Visualization Research Lab from Brown University printed full-color 3D models of scientific visualizations. They published a poster on the topic where they discuss the technical challenges they faced. The printer used was a Zcorp Z406. Also see our entry 1995 – SDSC TeleManufacturing Facility. Source: http://vis.cs.brown.edu/areas/projects/rapid.html
Since 2004 the Molecular Graphics Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute has been making heavy use of 3D-printed full-color physical molecule models, some of which are articulated (left image), flexible (middle image), and even self-assembling (right image, see video). They also publish augmented reality systems that use those physical models. Also see our entry 1995 – SDSC TeleManufacturing Facility. Sources: Web Page: http://mgl.scripps.edu/projects/tangible_models Tommy Toy (2011) How Arthur […]
Paul Bourke proposes to use sub-surface laser engraving for communicating about scientific findings at conferences. He also has seminar slides and a poster discussing the use of 3D-printed models. Source: Paul Bourke (2008) Presenting Scientific Visualisation Results as 3D Crystal Engravings.
A selection of MRI data glued on 60 wooden blocks which allow to physically dig into cross sections, by Neil Fraser. More details on infosthetics. Source: infosthetics.com.
A neuroscientific physical visualization made by an artist and a neuroscientist. Exhibited at the at the VisWeek 2011 art show. Source: David Paulsen and Pinar Yoldas. Photo by Samuel Huron.
Philadelphia-based multi-discipline artist Bradley Litwin built this physical chart that can be animated by turning a crank. It is the only manually-animated physical visualization we know of so far. It was commissionned by a pharmaceutical company, intended as an educational device for distributing to doctors. Bradley was kind enough to send us an image of the insides of the original prototype, "not quite as pretty as the final product", […]
These are stainless steel sculptures of Feynman diagrams created by Edward Tufte. They are currently (opening Sep 12, 2012) exhibited at Edward Tufte's gallery in Chelsea. Source: Edward Tufte. All possible photons – The conceptual and cognitive art of feynman diagrams.
Ryo Sakai and Jan Aerts from the Bioinformatics/Data Visualization Lab at KULeuven created a data-driven sculpture representing inbreeding in a particular chicken. Each loop in the sculpture represents a chromosome. On the outside is a histogram of the heterozygosity of the DNA; the inside a histogram of the homozygosity in that region. These sculptures are part of the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, and have been presented at the Art […]
Cell biologist Jessica Polka discusses the benefits of making flip books to bring to scientific conferences: With the advent of smartphones and tablets, bringing movies to poster sessions is becoming more common than ever before. Even so, a low-tech flip book is still a lot more fun for visitors to use, and it's easier to pass around a large group. When the session's over, a […]
Scientists keep using solid models to help them better understand complex 3D data (here, an astrophysical simulation): They say this provides even more insight into what’s going on. “The ability to hold and inspect the 3-D printed models provides a new perspective on the WWIR’s geometry and an improved sense of the scale of the different structures,” they say. In particular, they say the model allows […]
Humanity has been gazing at light from distant stars since time immemorial. But in 2015, our ability to understand the University achieved a major milestone, when ripples in Spacetime itself – instead of light – told the tale of an ancient, cataclysmic collision between black holes. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is an experimental system of almost unbelievable sensitivity. Using interferometer arms four kilometers long, it can detect changes in […]