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Clarity is not everything, but there is little without it.
Tufte (1990, p. 62)
‘The first visions of a new world’ is how the English scientist John Kendrew described the first crude three-dimensional representation of a protein in 1957 (Kendrew, 1961). The protein was myoglobin and the scientific group led by John Kendrew was from the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, UK. The first study of the three-dimensional structural representation of myoglobin revealed a much more complicated and irregular structure than most of the earlier hypotheses of proteins had suggested (Kendrew et al., 1958). Two years later Kendrew and colleagues produced an image with such a high resolution that it allowed them to deduce the actual arrangement in space of nearly all of myoglobin's 2600 atoms (Kendrew et al., 1960).
Kendrew presented the results for Scientific American's wide general audience in an article in 1961 (Kendrew, 1961). Visual representations were used throughout the article to clarify the process and to explain the scientific results and consequences of the discovery. Of the sixteen illustrations, a double-page watercolour of the entire structure by the renowned scientific illustrator Irving Geis stood out (Figure 22.1). The details and subtle colours contributing to the delicate three-dimensional illustration of the molecule were the result of the work of a dedicated scientist and a talented scientific illustrator working together, creating a dazzling visual representation of the molecule. Other three-dimensional representations included an electron density map made of about fifty layers of transparent plastic Lucite sheets, a model of clips and rods, and a less detailed and rather rough sculpture. Throughout, Kendrew stressed the importance of producing three-dimensional representations of the molecule in search of explanations for chemical behaviours and physiological functions. This was how the work was done.
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