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BioVisions Initiative Highlights Importance of Life Sciences Visualizations

By Kay Lu and Steven H. Tenzer, Crimson Staff Writers

Advanced technology has made visualization an increasingly important tool for the life sciences at Harvard. BioVisions, an initiative supported by Harvard and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has worked for several years to encourage members of the life sciences community to use visualizations as they animate, simplify, and communicate complex research.

According to Robert A. Lue, the founder and director of BioVisions and a professor of molecular and cellular biology, the initiative will help students “learn the concepts of science more easily.

“It’s an opportunity for us to really bring visualization to students much faster,” he said.

According to Jacqueline M. Brooks, a student advisor for BioVisions, the initiative “has a huge impact on the student’s ability and confidence in teaching and communicating their scientific ideas.”

“It makes them better oral, written and visual communicators,” she said in an email statement.

BioVisions’ animations are used by more than just Harvard researchers. The visualizations circulate to high schools and other colleges and feature in museums and books. The initiative aims to make biological research more accessible to the general public, Lue said.

Timothy S. Hopper ’14, a human evolutionary biology concentrator and an HHMI Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Fellow in 2013, developed an animation on the mechanisms of human learning.

“The BioVisions project serves an important mission by making research more accessible to the public,” Hopper said.

“The rich media that is available online is so much more flexible and adapted to visual technique,” said Randy W. Schekman, a Nobel laureate and HHMI investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, who has used BioVisions visualizations in his lectures.

—Staff writer Kay Lu can be reached at

—Staff writer Steven H. Tenzer can be reached at

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