Again this year, I am sharing with American Scientist
readers a winning image from the Science and Engineering
Visualization Challenge, a contest sponsored by the National
Science Foundation and the journal Science for which I
was a judge. This year's award in the Informational Graphic
category went to a stunning and wonderfully informative
reference chart titled "FluorEssence." Chris Hardee is
vice president of marketing at Omega Optical, a manufacturer of
optical filters for fluorescence microscopy and instrumentation,
and headed the creative team.
F. F. Tell us first what we're looking at, Chris.
C. H. Fluorophores [chemical groups that absorb light
of one wavelength and emit a different one] are incredibly important
to biomedical researchers, as they are used to stain and visualize
parts of cells or tissues, which in turn provide a window to
structure and function. They are visualized by excitation with a
light source that produces a characteristic emission, or
fluorescence. There are hundreds of fluorophores, and they are
identified by their excitation and emission peak wavelengths from
the ultraviolet to the infrared portion of the spectrum. This poster
contains those identifying wavelengths for approximately 250 of the
most commonly used fluorophores. It is meant to serve as a reference
tool that is also aesthetically beautiful.
F. F. What sparked the idea for the poster, and who else was
involved with the concept?
C. H. I've been intrigued with photographic mosaics
ever since I first saw Robert Silvers's book Photomosaics a
number of years ago. While representations of the spectrum are used
frequently to communicate information in the science of optics and
the optics industry, for me they lack imagination. I thought it
would be great to create a mosaic of the visible spectrum using the
rich archive of imagery that we have accumulated over the years from
researchers who are using our filters in microscopy applications.
The marketing department at Omega Optical worked on the conceptual
design, which we handed off to our out-of-house graphic design firm,
Woodward Design. Fluorophores are not neatly divided into
universally accepted categories, so we created "color
families" based on the classification systems of a number of
researchers and companies that we found on the Internet. Our image
archive was "mined" for mosaic pieces, which were
hand-sorted by the graphic-art team into the same color families.
The designers came up with the beautiful realization of the
spectrum, which to me looks like the stroke of a paintbrush or a
character of calligraphy, an appropriate metaphor for the biological
images that fluorophores paint.
F. F. Did you consider making this an interactive reference chart?
C. H. That's not the first time that question has been
asked, and while we have discussed it as an option we have never
seriously considered turning it into an interactive because we
already have a very useful interactive tool on our Web site. This
tool, the Curv-o-matic, is a database that matches fluorophore
spectral data and the spectral curves of available filters.