Our favorite Science illustrations of 2019

The Science Visuals design team art directs many illustrations each year. In 2019, we tackled a diverse range of subjects including artificial intelligence mastering multiplayer poker, the walking style of a prehistoric protomammal, and fantastical food made from insects or wood. Below are a few of our favorites.

a strong cumulonimbus cloud pushes upward and flashes with lightning
a mine worker carries a heavy bag on his back as he walks along a cliff edge
aerial view of a boat driving through an algae bloom
a man looks upward to a skylight through a glacier
salmon swim in a river
Gao Caixia in an environmental growth chamber with wheat plantst
a small moon is seen through Saturn’s rings
a table in the shape of the periodic table of elementsw
 a protester throws a lit Molotov cocktail
children swimming
a male humpback whale
an aerial view of an oil palm plantation
a hand holding a hoatzin chick
an arrangement of colorful potatoes
a ground pangolin
a young girl sits on a bed in a hospital ward
Danielle Bassett with a representation of the brain

Quality control in the cell

Nigel Sussman

Nigel uses wit, whimsy, and humor to depict the various roles of organelles that create balance within a cell. Working with the editors, I spent countless hours ensuring they were accurate. In this seek-and-find illustration, you see something new every time you look at it. —Marcy Atarod, design managing editor

Lost at sea

Valerie Altounian, senior scientific illustrator

At Science, our illustrations often bridge the gap between technical and conceptual. Val rendered the fish beautifully and accurately, while gently weaving in some of the sensory threats they face. —Chrystal Smith, senior designer

Jason stays alive

Andy Potts

Andy captured the evolution of Jason with an homage to the ominous war room from the movie Dr. Strangelove. We see the transition of Jason projects, as well as a progression in the makeup of its members. —Marcy Atarod, design managing editor

Language and the brain

Eiko Ojala

Eiko nailed the execution of our simple concept, using his paper art style of texture, shadow, and color to bring dimension and life to the illustration. —Marcy Atarod, design managing editor.

Brain anatomy

Valerie Altounian, senior scientific illustrator

Although Val could have made a successful cover image using the researchers’ data to model the densely packed nerve cells in a mouse brain, she had bigger ideas. Val wanted to evoke the beautiful imagery of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a late 19th century neuroscientist with a knack for drawing neurons. But with today’s technology, we are able to see far more neurons than could be depicted in his pen and ink style. I suggested combining the two approaches, showing the transition from a sparse 2D drawing to a dense 3D rendering. The authors of the paper raved about how Val fully captured the scientific essence of the related manuscript and said this illustration went a very long way in depicting an important, centurylong scientific journey in the neurosciences. —Beth Rakouskas, creative director

Dubious diagnosis


To visualize prediabetes I suggested the iconic finger prick. Stephan deftly used it as a symbol to carry the reader through this series of clever and beautiful illustrations. —Marcy Atarod, design managing editor

Unraveling suicide


Trust is one of the most important factors in a relationship between an art director and an illustrator. Knowing that illustrating a topic as sensitive as suicide was not going to be easy, I turned to Stephan, a longtime collaborator. Together we explored ways to visualize science’s role in helping people emerge from such a dark journey, while avoiding overused icons and potentially triggering imagery to represent methods of suicide. —Chrystal Smith, senior designer

Calling our bluff

Jason Solo

Science is no stranger to conceptual illustrations about artificial intelligence mastering games. The challenge is coming up with a new solution—for us and our readers. When I saw Jason’s digital and futuristic style, I knew he would be perfect for illustrating this breakthrough. The scene appears to be both physical and digital—existing in the real world for the human poker players and in the digital world for the poker master computer program, Pluribus. —Chrystal Smith, senior designer

Foods of the future

Leonard Dupond

Leonard set out to illustrate reader-written advertisements for imagined foods of the future. From food customized to your DNA preferences, to patties made from insects, Leonard depicted these concepts with creativity and a bit of old Hollywood glamour. —Christina Aycock, designer

The Twitter warrior

Anita Kunz

We needed to capture #MeTooSTEM founder BethAnn McLaughlin’s likeness, edgy personality, and social media presence, while being respectful and not flippant. Anita Kunz is known for her witty portraitures that use strong visual metaphors to tackle heavy subject matters. One look at her “BethAnn as Rosie the Riveter” sketch and I was sold! —Marcy Atarod, design managing editor

Far-flung twins

Ray Oranges

What do you do when your subject decides to run for office, and showing a photo of them on your cover could be perceived as supporting their campaign? Cue the conceptual illustration! Ray’s geometric style worked perfectly with our twin-in-space study. —Marcy Atarod, design managing editor

Working life

Robert Neubecker

It takes a special mind to come up with a new visual approach each week for our Working Life column on career challenges. Robert is consistently clever, often taking very personal and sensitive topics and illustrating them tactfully. —Marcy Atarod, design managing editor

Our autumn reading list

Christina Chung

Our fall reading list showcases great books you can cozy up with as the seasons change. With a delicate sketchlike overlay, Christina incorporated many key themes from the books while evoking the mood of fall. —Christina Aycock, designer

Walking tall

Julius Csotonyi

Julius and I endeavored to surprise and delight readers with our interpretation of how this giant synapsid might have looked walking through Late Triassic–era Poland. The authors of the paper were thrilled that Julius captured not only the erect gait of this giant protomammal—walking like an elephant rather than a crocodile—but also included some contemporary mammals and dinosaurs for scale. —Beth Rakouskas, creative director

Breakthrough of the year

Mark Garlick

With the expert counsel of physicist Dimitrios Psaltis, a member of the Event Horizon Telescope team, Mark was able to imagine how the M87 black hole would look from a nearby world, creating a view that is both visually stunning and grounded in science. —Alberto Cuadra, graphics managing editor

Split decisions


To depict Brexit, a topic covered exhaustively in the news, the choice to go conceptual was an easy one. Choosing Davide, a trusted illustrator, was an even easier decision. His illustration gets straight to the point—Brexit will isolate some scientists. —Marcy Atarod, design managing editor

When science and politics collide: Enhancing the FDA


Davide is a master of conceptualizing difficult science policy topics. Combining the iconographic symbol of the U.S. Capitol with the hand of a puppeteer to show political interference is what makes this illustration so successful. His addition of one scientist breaking away gives the image a hopeful slant. —Chrystal Smith, senior designer