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Animators Aid Science

This week, Nature editor Corie Lok speaks with biomedical illustrators who are working aside researchers in academia, industry, and elsewhere to create scientifically accurate and visually pleasing animations, illustrations, and Web sites. "Biomedical animators in the United States, Canada and elsewhere are seeing rising demand for their work from sectors including academic research, publishing, biotechnology and the drug industry," Lok says, adding that "more and more scientists are seeking out animators, and a few, hoping to tinker with animation to aid their research." Indeed, Harvard Medical School cell biologist Samara Reck-Peterson is now working with her colleague Janet Iwasas, a scientific animator and a lecturer at the school, to decipher the fine details of dynein motility. "Reck-Peterson hopes that the animations will help her lab to design its next experiments, providing insight into exactly how this motor works," Lok says. Reck-Peterson tells Nature that Iwasa's "animations have made it easier to talk concretely about our ideas, both within the lab and with others in the field."

Academia is not the only sector hiring biomedical illustrators. "Scientific animators can also be found at a growing number of commercial animation and design studios that specialize in biomedical work," Lok adds.

Drawing upon data from a 2009 Association of Medical Illustrators survey, Lok says "illustrators and animators employed full-time earn a median salary of US$52,000 at the start of their careers, $65,000 in mid-career and up to $150,000 as seasoned veterans." Those who work on a freelance basis earn varied incomes, though on average they make $79,000 annually, she adds.

While one is not typically required, "having a scientific background can help with career advancement" in the profession, Lok says. While an animator's "artistic and production track record is paramount," she adds that those interested in biomedical illustration should be able to "read and understand the relevant literature and to talk to scientists about their work."

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