The Most Compelling Science Graphics of 2022
Words alone cannot capture the full wonder (or horror) of all the stories science had to tell this year. This is where graphics come into play. Whether it’s visualizing key data surrounding the COVID pandemic, explaining a mind-boggling idea in quantum physics, or synthesizing a parasite’s incredible journey through three different hosts, Scientific American’s graphics editors have helped create a wealth of Topics to cover Exciting topics this year. Here is just a small selection of our favourites.
Two years after COVID, mountains of data
In March, we published a special issue on how COVID has changed the world since it was declared a global pandemic two years earlier. The graphics team was already familiar with visualizing things like COVID infection or death rates, but measuring the broader and more nuanced impact of the pandemic required further investigation. We worked with three different researchers to gather the most detailed and accurate data we could find to tell the story of how COVID is affecting everything from the economy to education and of course health in the US and around the world had. This chart is just part of a wide-ranging exploration of the pandemic’s unequal toll, told primarily through charts.
Photo credits: Jen Christiansen; Source: Winners and Losers from COVID-19: Global Evidence from Google Search, by Kibrom A. Abay et al. Policy Research Working Paper 9268, World Bank Group, Development Economics Development Research Group, June 2020
Decoding of the Omicron variant
As we pondered the devastation COVID had already wreaked, the virus that causes the disease continued to do its thing—mutating and spreading. By early 2022, Omicron was the dominant strain in the US, its seemingly limitless contagiousness surpassing all previous variants. We used graphics to break down Omicron’s threefold strategy: it wore a disguise (see graphic), stabilized its spike protein, and sneaked into the “side door” of cells in our airways. Luckily, it also dropped its defenses, making it less deadly than other variants.
Credit: Veronica Falconieri Hays
How politics affects health
New research has shown that not only do people in Republican-leaning counties die more often than in Democratic areas, but the gap in the leading causes of death is consistent — and widening. Data on factors such as deaths from COVID and firearms helped tell the story of how political decisions harm people in the most politically conservative corners of the country.
Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: “Political Environment and Mortality Rates in the United States, 2001-19: Population Based Cross Sectional Analysis”, by Haider J. Warraich et al., in BMJ, Vol. 3, No. 377. Published online 7 June 2022
Getting warmer (in a bad way)
The summer of 2022 was a hit, but data suggests it’s going to be one of the coolest of the rest of life. Scientific American weather expert Andrea Thompson offered a sober summary of the science of extreme heat in a world increasingly plagued by climate change. The graphs in this story show how climate and weather trends have led to some of the hottest months on record and how summers are likely to develop in the future.
Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: Climate Control Center
Your regular reminder that parasite life cycles are crazy
Need a break from all the bad news? Here’s a little graphic palate cleanser: We’ve visualized the life cycle of the parasite Schistocephalus solidus, which requires ingestion by a copepod, a fish, and a bird – in that order – to survive and reproduce. You’ve never seen anything so gross illustrated so beautifully.
Credit: Daisy Chung
New to Quantum Physics: Telepathy?
For those who like to keep their brains busy by reading about the latest developments in quantum physics, here’s an amazing achievement: A group of researchers in China conducted an experiment to demonstrate something called quantum pseudotelepathy. Using the framework of a Mermin-Peres magic square – a game in which two players win by correctly guessing the other’s secret moves – this story uses graphics to explain how players could theoretically apply the rules of quantum mechanics, to telepathically exchange information with each other (sort of), bypassing the game’s usual limitations (outlined in the graphic).
Credit: Lucy Reading-Ikkanda
Deconstruction of the JWST’s spectacular images
At Scientific American, we like to visualize a lot of things, but what about visualization, how things are visualized? Yes, we do that too. Some of the most breathtaking photos of 2022 come from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which earlier this year began taking snapshots of the cosmos in unprecedented detail. But how exactly is the data encoded by this magnificent instrument translated into the beautiful, sparkling images we’ve been drooling over since July? This graphically-oriented story unveils the science behind the images, from the four instruments that make up the telescope itself to the techniques scientists on Earth use to distill the data for our human eyes.
Photo credits: Jen Christiansen (graphic); NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI and Webb ERO production team (image source)