In this post, we interview Christoph Kuehne PhD. Christoph is a Biomedical Animator with a research background in electron microscopy. Read the interview below to learn all about Christoph’s exciting career path and how he transitioned from research to animation.
What got you interested in science and structural biology in particular?
My interest in science and biology probably comes from my parents, who both worked in scientific fields. Random examples: As a child, I had a microscope, or my father used agar plates to show the effect of handwashing. I also enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked – not living things, just to be clear. All of this might be a kind of cliché, but served as a good starting point. Structural biology came into play during grad school. By chance I got involved with 3D reconstructions of proteins and cryo-electron microscopy. Basically, I like things with lots of doodads, and an electron microscope fits the bill.
In general, what has your career path been like?
I studied biology, focusing on immunology, zoology and developmental genetics. Going into a PhD program without really thinking it through was a major mistake. By the end, I was utterly frustrated and went in a totally different direction to take up professional photography. Making pictures, moving or still, was another fascination of mine from early on.
What prompted you to make the transition from researcher to animator?
Painfully obvious after my PhD, the way my creative drive works is just not suitable for a researcher. I am very lucky that the scientific illustration/animation field exists, where I get to combine pretty much everything that I enjoy doing.
What tools and resources have you used to build your scientific animation/illustration skills?
I mainly use online courses and books. On the science communication side, I found a course like S.P.A.R.K to be extremely valuable. I remember the first scientific conference I ever attended, where a speaker used a simple 3D animation. He actually kept apologizing for it, saying “it’s pure Hollywood”. The paradigm at the time seemed to be: It can’t be good science if it’s presented well. Since then, I feel that mindset has changed, and a growing number of researchers are recognizing the benefits of effective science communication. During my time in academia, there were no dedicated courses such as S.P.A.R.K. available, which led to a blind spot in that area.
What do you see as the main benefits of researchers working with scientific illustrators?
Naturally, a researcher is on top of the science, aware of uncertainties or missing data. The scientific illustrator can pour all of that into a product tailored to the target audience. It is a very beneficial symbiosis between scientific, technical and communication skill sets.
What have been some of your favorite projects?
My first project was an animation about Hemocyanin, an oxygen carrier that uses copper instead of iron – totally by chance also the subject of my PhD-thesis. More recently, I took part in David Goodsell’s inspiring CellSpace workshop. I contributed an illustration showcasing the SARS-CoV-2 membrane fusion mechanism.
What advice do you have for anyone who’d like to make a career in scientific illustration/animation?
I would highly recommend building a network. There are a lot of lovely and talented artists working in the field.