These Tumors are… Beautiful?

I’m not sure how else to describe these animated videos on tumor angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels leading to a tumor. The biotechnology company Amgen put the stunning mini-site together to explain new approaches to Cancer treatment.







While the animation and interface are wonderful, the site doesn’t do a great job explaining what’s actually going on, at least not for a general audience. In fact, the caliber of the animation actually makes it harder to absorb any details. Show me beautiful imagery set to soothing space music, and it’s nearly impossible not to tune out a British narrator spouting 10-syllable terminology.

[via Neatorama]

“The Secret Life of Magnetic Fields”

How do you explain something that’s invisible? Making it visible seems obvious in retrospect, but I’ve never seen any representation of electromagnetic fields remotely like this before:



Magnetic Movie from Semiconductor on Vimeo.

This is the work of of Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt of Semiconductor Films, commissioned for Britain’s Channel 4. The shapes are based on actual electromagnetic activity:

The secret lives of invisible magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic ever-changing geometries . All action takes place around NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratories, UC Berkeley, to recordings of space scientists describing their discoveries . Actual VLF [very low frequency] audio recordings control the evolution of the fields as they delve into our inaudible surroundings, revealing recurrent ‘whistlers’ produced by fleeting electrons .

[via Boing Boing]

It Takes a Village of 100

Over the past few years, I’ve run into several articles and email forwards presenting a hypothetical village of 100 as a stand-in for the entire world population. For example, “if the world population were a village of 100 people, 61 people would be Asian, 15 would be malnourished, 20 would be overweight, etc.” Apparently this idea dates back to a 1990 piece by Dartmouth professor Donella Meadows. Snopes cautions that some versions in circulation are inaccurate.

Miniature-Earth.com features this short movie version:



This is a neat trick, as it accomplishes a few impressive explainist feats instantly:

  • It makes very big numbers comprehensible.
  • It lifts you out of your local/religious/ethnic perspective to consider the composition of human race as a whole.
  • It makes you imagine other people in the abstract as actual people that you live with (which they are).

We’re just not wired to imagine 6.7 billion people, but 100 is well within our grasp.

Illustrator/designer/photographer Toby Ng ran with the idea and created a series of village-of-100 posters.



The posters are sharp, but the metaphors within a metaphor are a little mind-bending (“if the human population were a village of 100 people, which comprised slices of a pizza…”). Is it too obvious of me to picture posters showing the hypothetical villagers themselves?

[via FlowingData]

Free Ivy League Education, Delivery Included

Why shell out $34,000 a year when you can load up on Harvard learnin’ for free? So far, the new site Academic Earth has videos of thousands of lectures, including entire courses, from Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Meanwhile, YouTube has debuted their own college lecture channel, YouTube EDU.

Some, like this physics course with audience participation, are a lot livelier than others:



For the full college experience, be sure to skip a video occasionally and watch some of these.

[via Lifehacker]

Animated Biology

As part of their Revolutionary Minds series, Seed Magazine has profiled five people breaking new ground in science education. The stand-out is Drew Berry, a biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. That’s a fantastic job title; as you might guess, Berry uses 3-D animation to depict various biological processes accurately and clearly.



Seedmagazine.com Revolutionary Minds

This type of animation is a welcome bridge between scientists and the rest of us. From the article:

An unexpected side effect of Berry’s work has been that when laypeople view the animations, they intuitively grasp the cutting-edge science. Berry says, with some amazement, “The more hard-core it is, and the more complicated visually it is, the more people respond.” Seeing the cell’s activities conveys something fundamental to viewers, something that Berry sees in his mind as he digests the journal articles that contribute to each animation.

What I’d love to see now is a biological video game series.

[via Workplace Learning Today]

Better Product Pitches Through Stop Motion

In a post on Open Forum, Guy Kawasaki sings the praises of Atelier Transfert’s stop-motion-loaded product videos. As Kawasaki points out, many Web companies fail abysmally at explaining what exactly they do. The Canadian studio’s masterful pieces quickly and clearly define the problems to be solved and the way the products solve them.



Email Center Pro from Atelier Transfert on Vimeo.



Alltop.com Tutorial Video from Atelier Transfert on Vimeo.

Incidentally, according to an online French dictionary, the company name translates to “Transfer Studio.” French speakers, please correct me if I got that wrong.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at how they made the Email Center Pro piece:



A Making-Of: Email Center Pro (the Breakdown of A Sequence) from Atelier Transfert on Vimeo.

They also do recipes:



Startcooking.com Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe from Atelier Transfert on Vimeo.

Mmm… cookies.

It took me a minute to realize that a big part of the appeal of these is the classic Sesame Street vibe:





[via How to Change the World]

A Communications Primer

Okay class, we have a movie today. Somebody get the lights please.

This 20-minute 1953 film from renowned married designers Ray and Charles Eames falls into one of my favorite genres: contemplation of a familiar subject as seen from a removed vantage point. In this case, the subject is communication, with a focus on binary information.


Frame from A Communications Primer

The film may not teach you much you didn’t know already, but it’s a showcase of ways to build an explanation with engaging imagery. It’s also a prime example of an excellent explanation trick — illuminating multiple subjects by casting them as different versions of the same thing. The film shows how painting, speech, telegrams, printed images, text, computer programs, etc. all have the same core components: information source, message, transmitter, signal, receiver, and destination. Focusing on the fundamental similarities cuts through potentially confusing details to give you a solid model for understanding each one.


Frame from A Communications Primer

On top of that, it’s loaded with the warm, warbly woodwind music of classroom films (in this case, composed by the late great movie score composer Elmer Bernstein). If you were a kid in the 50s through 80s, you probably know this as the music of education. Or desk naps.

[via Kottke]

Crisis of Credit Visualized

I’m a little late on this one — I missed it when it popped up on BoingBoing and elsewhere a couple weeks ago. Designer Jonathan Jarvis put together this super slick animation explaining the credit shenanigans that got us into this mess.



The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

This is part of Jarvis’ thesis work at the Art Center College of Design. According to the site, his thesis work is related to “exploring the use of new media to make sense of a increasingly complex world.” Sounds like my kind of thesis work.

[via Scott McCloud]