Research Questions

  • How can the “powers-of-ten” grid, as a visual device, be used to segue between spatial and temporal scales?
  • How can sonification be used effectively to better communicate transition between these scales?

This animation won student-best-in-show at the Association of Medical Illustrators‘ annual conference in Cleveland, July 2015!


  • The process of smooth muscle cell contraction is used to visualize four levels of space and time:
    • protein level
    • protein domain level
    • amino acid level
    • atomic level
  • Sonification is used to enhance the viewer’s perceived contrast between the spatial and time scales

Intellectual Property

This project is the property of Andrew Tubelli.

Molecular visualization of different spatial and temporal scales.


Andrew Tubelli (MScBMC Student)

Jodie Jenkinson (Supervisor)

Gaël McGill (Committee member)

Nicholas Woolridge (Committee member)

Project summary

Visuals are required in order to grasp the abstract concepts associated with the discipline of cellular and molecular biology. The piecewise method of teaching cellular and molecular biology is important to isolate concepts for students to focus on, but this also creates a lack of context and connections. There are many levels of organization within the cell, each with events that occur simultaneously and at different spatial and temporal scales. Textbooks can serve as the main source of visuals in an undergraduate biology course, yet visuals of isolated events do not allow for an appreciation of how the event is part of a larger network of events within a cell. Three-dimensional animation, with its ability to show dynamic processes and its ability to include auditory cues, is a tool that is beneficial for depicting the concept of scaling.

This animation shows four levels of organization within the cellular environment of a smooth muscle cell. The animation features a “powers-of-ten” grid as a visual device, as well as sonification, to segue between spatial levels and speed change to transition between temporal levels. Molecular crowding is emphasized to highlight its important role in cellular function.


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