Back in 2019, if you had asked me what the above image was, my best guess would have landed somewhere close to an everlasting gobstobber from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Now, it’s completely recognizable as the rendering of SARS-COV-2. This piece from The Paris Review gives us a bit of background on this notorious and ubiquitous scientific illustration.
The disease that has put the entire world on pause is easily communicable, capable of stowing silently away in certain hosts and killing others, and, to the human eye, entirely invisible. In media parlance it’s become our “invisible enemy”: a nightmarish, oneiric force that can’t be seen, heard, or touched. But with the use of modeling software, scientists and illustrators have begun to visualize coronavirus, turning it into something that can be seen, understood, and, hopefully, eventually vanquished by science. Many of us imagine the virus as a sphere radiating red spikes—but why? Certain elements of these visualizations are based on the way coronavirus appears under a microscope, and others are choices that were made, an exercise of artistic license.
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