Do you see what I see? The challenge of molecular visualization

Do you see what I see? This question is especially relevant to ask when students are learning about biomolecules that are too small to see with their naked eye or even a microscope. Teachers and researchers turn to molecular visualization to represent biomolecules such as proteins and DNA.

In other words, we teach students using pictures and models. This adds a level of challenge because educators also need to ensure that students have the molecular visualization literacy skills to understand these biomolecular representations. The representations range from simple stick drawings, to precisely detailed computer images, to three-dimensional models students can hold in their hands.

Dr. Rebecca Roberts (Biology) spent the weekend helping to run a workshop as part of BioMolViz, a National Science Foundation-funded group of scientists tasked with improving molecular visual literacy. Faculty and researchers from around the country came together at the University of Delaware to discuss visual literacy and develop assessments that will ultimately populate a Molecular Visualization Literacy repository for educators. A picture speaks a thousand words, the aim is to make sure that educators and students interpret a biomolecular picture or model in the same way and with comparable nuance and depth.