PeerJ Award Winner Beata Mierzwa – ‘Best Scientific Poster Award’ at VIZBI 2019

by | Nov 18, 2020 | Award Winner Interviews, Awards

The PeerJ Awards program aims to support students and early career researchers by recognising their work, as well as bringing continued awareness to the benefits that open access has in keeping science open and available to all. The winners receive a complimentary PeerJ paper (upon submission and acceptance through our peer review system) and an interview about their research.

Today, we shine a spotlight on Beata Edyta Mierzwa a postdoctoral researcher at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and UC San Diego. Beata was presented with the PeerJ ‘Best Scientific Poster Award’ at the 2019 Vizbi conference.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a molecular biologist and artist who combines science, art and fashion to share the beauty of biology with the world. My curiosity about the wonders of life inspired me to pursue a career in research, and spending time behind the microscope allowed me to appreciate the beauty of our cells. During my academic career, I discovered that creativity is an integral part of both science and art, and that combining these passions creates a unique way to communicate scientific information and add creativity to conventional forms of scientific exchange.

Can you explain your background and your research interests?

My scientific background is in cell division – an amazing process that is as complex as it is beautiful. Ever since I saw my first microscopy image, I was blown away by the beauty of our cells, and I have been studying different aspects of cell division since my master’s thesis at the University of Vienna and ETH Zürich. Currently, I’m working on my postdoctoral research at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and UC San Diego. My work aims to explore the variation of cell division mechanisms across different types of cells within multicellular organisms. Uncovering cell type-specific mitotic machineries has the exciting potential to improve cancer therapy by identifying unique susceptibilities for selective targeting of cancer cells.


Can you explain how you began communicating science through art?

I created my first science-themed drawing to depict my PhD research on the final step in cell division – two cells literally cutting their connection with a pair of scissors. Although not a classical scientific figure, I found that showing this drawing as part of my scientific presentations was a refreshing and memorable way to introduce my research topic and it tended to stay in people’s memories. This inspired me to start creating illustrations for other people’s discoveries as well as my own, and I began spending my evenings creating drawings for journal covers, research groups and conferences, in addition to my daily experiments in the lab. Spending time at the microscope for my research also allowed me to appreciate the beauty of our cells, which inspired me to create my own science fashion line using prints of visually stunning microscopy images. 


What processes and mediums do you use to create these works?

My science art is based on hand-drawn illustrations, but the process starts long before I begin the actual drawings. Each artwork requires breaking down the essence of complex scientific information and translating it into aesthetic visuals, using metaphor and abstract imagery that highlight biological concepts in intuitive ways. Once I know what I want to portray, I make a detailed pencil drawing on paper, adding colors and scientific data digitally. For my microscopy fashion, I spend hours in a dark microscope room capturing the most beautiful images I can find, which I then compile into aesthetic patterns and designs for clothing and accessories.


Can you explain what you presented that won the award? 

My poster presentation at VIZBI 2019 was particularly exciting for me! Though I have presented research posters many times before, this was my very first time sharing my work on science communication at a conference about visualization of biological data. My presentation aimed to highlight how combining science and art can be used to communicate complex scientific concepts and research findings in intuitive ways. Examples included fusing hand-drawn illustrations with real scientific data, such as microscopy images and protein structures, or using abstract imagery and metaphor, like hands pulling apart chromosomes during anaphase. I have found that this visualization provides a powerful tool to promote research findings, facilitate communication between scientists from diverse fields, and to share the beauty of science with the world.


What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this work and/or what do your future plans include?

Receiving the PeerJ Award was a huge honor and a wonderful inspiration for me to continue both my scientific and artistic endeavors. I have recently been exploring the world of science outreach to spark curiosity for careers in STEM. Last year, I became an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador and began working with Young Women in Bio to inspire a future generation of creative scientists. An exciting project I am currently working on is a science-themed video game based on my artwork, aiming to share the depth, complexity and beauty of the magical world inside every living being.


How can we keep up with your work?

You can follow my work on or @beatascienceart on social media!







VIZBI 2019 Poster – Communicating Scientific Concepts Through Art

Creativity is an integral part of both science and art, and using it to combine these two seemingly different disciplines creates unique and effective ways to communicate scientific information. Here I present how hand-drawn illustrations can convey complex biological concepts using real scientific data and abstract imagery. This visualization provides a powerful tool to both facilitate communication between scientists from diverse fields and to share scientific concepts with non-scientists in the forms of outreach and education.




The Final Cut

In the final step of cell division, the bridge connecting the cells is cut in a process called ‘cytokinetic abscission’, and gives rise to two separate daughter cells. The top image shows a real immunostaining of a human cell, while the bottom image is a hand-drawn illustration showing the same process. The drawing is overlaid with microscopy images, with the blue DNA carrying the genetic information and the green microtubules giving shape to the cell – a combination that quite literally fuses science and art.



Chromosome Segregation

This drawing illustrates how our chromosomes are segregated during cell division – a fundamental process that has fascinated scientists for centuries. To ensure that each daughter cell receives the correct set of chromosomes the cell assembles a mitotic spindle, illustrated by the ropes, which pulls the blue/green chromosomes towards the opposite poles. This process is incredibly complex, but having the correct amount of DNA is absolutely essential for all organisms. Chromosome segregation errors are a hallmark of cancer, and therefore studying this process has been invaluable for cancer research.



See interviews and the listing of 2019 PeerJ Award winners on the PeerJ blog here!

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