Use animation to breathe

Use animation to breathe life into scientific figures

We’ve already looked at infographics and how they are a great way to talk about a study concisely and in a visually appealing manner. Let’s focus on something different here – let’s look at making static scientific figures come alive using animation.

Animated figures bring science to life

Science is complex and cannot always be explained with text. One of the most important parts of a scientific manuscript is the figures it contains. Often, these figures are technical in nature and contain complex statistical data understanding which might be time consuming. Moreover, figures are static and expect the reader to make connections between data points themselves.

What if I told you that scientific figures could talk? Not literally, but visually, you can bring scientific figures to life with the help of animation. The idea is to make scientific figures more appealing in a way that it is easy to understand the findings they are presenting. They are also a great way to make figures interesting to look at.

How I create an animated scientific figure

I first understand the primary focus of the figure. This helps me decide what to animate and how so that I can show the relevant correlations and/or phenomena. I often get help from our team of subject-area experts for this. The simpler a talking figure is, the more impactful it will be. When animating the figure, I stick to the bare minimum and animate only what is necessary. I also make sure that the animation is not too fast or too slow – either could hamper a viewer’s understanding of the figure.

Let’s look at an example

Here is a figure from an article published in the Cell Press journal Joule about 4.0 V Aqueous Li-Ion Batteries ( Yang et al., 2017 )

This figure

(A and B) Snapshots of inner-Helmholtz interfacial regions of the anode surface in WiBS (21 M LiTFSI + 7 M LiOTF in water) at (A) 2.5 V and (B) 0.5 V versus Li, respectively. Water molecules adsorbed or closer than 4 Å to the surface are magnified, while water molecules further removed from the surface are shown as slightly reduced in the picture.

This figure is a typical illustration of water molecules. While trying to bring this figure to life, I used simple animation and tried to present the findings in a more visual way.

V Aqueous

How was that? Weren’t you more engaged in following the animated figure? So the next time you find yourself thinking about how you could make your research more engaging, consider talking figures for your display items.

Quick tips on animating scientific figures

Here are few things you need to remember when you’re working on animating one or more figures from your paper.

  • Simplicity is important: Don’t use complex animation or too many details to explain the concept.
  • Consider narration: It is common for authors to narrate, as a voice over, what is happening in the figure so that it sounds like a brief talk given by the author.
  • Label the figure correctly: Remember to label all the parts of the figure correctly during animation.
  • Animate ethically: Remember that you are only animating the figure, not modifying it. Don’t manipulate the image or make major corrections to the original one. That is unethical.

So, have you come across any animated scientific figures before? If yes, did they enhance you understanding of the figure? Let me know your thoughts about making scientific figures come alive.

This article is the second in a 3-part series on Unearthing the Power of Visuals in Research Communication! Read Part 1 here.

About the Series:

A scientific content visualizer talks us through how converting complex scientific information into infographics, animated scientific figures, and video summaries can accentuate the impact of scientific research.

About the Author

Prasad Balgi

Bio: As Head of Studio at Impact Science, Prasad Balgi manages a team of multimedia experts to help researchers and authors simplify their research. Prasad strives to make science communication more interesting by bringing science to life with engaging and easy to understand multimedia formats. He is also a traveller at heart and captures his experiences with his photography.

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