Visualizing Science: Exploring estrogen’s possible role in breast cancer

Post by Bryce Snow
This is the most recent iteration of a flow schematic that I have been working on progressively for each week of this semester. My intentions is to make a visual that articulates well the entire scope of my research

Hand drawn visualization of how estrogen operates at the molecular level, with emphasis on the pituitary gland and aspects of the process that are unknown/areas of current research

Hand-drawn visualization of research investigating how estrogen operates at the molecular level. © Bryce Snow, 2018

​I am a second year Master’s student working in Dr. Brian Cherrington’s Reproductive Endocrinology lab at the University of Wyoming. My project involves studying the effect that estrogen has on the lactation process and why at the molecular level estrogen seems to play a role in breast cancer development.

My intention for this visual was to provide an easy-to-follow, step-wise progression showing where, how, and why our research takes place. My anticipated audience for this visual is one that has some sort of physiological literacy.Providing both a visually sequential flow as well as an accompanying description of each step is a technique I use when teaching difficult physiological processes. I have found it gives a more complete scope of what is going on when you can associate a step with a point on a visual. I think for the most part I accomplished what I set out to in those regards.

As far as the design element of this visual is concerned I have both come a long way and have a LONG way to go. I really wanted to hand draw every aspect, which is totally out of my comfort zone and probably compromises the legibility of the visual; however I had a great time piecing this together.

Throughout the process I placed an emphasis on simplicity. Simplicity was good for two reasons:

  1. A serious limit on my artistic skills
  2. Simple = digestible

Jessica Rick’s cartoon (below; published in this series on 11/16/2018) absolutely inspired me towards simplicity. Her use of “zoom” and a simple color pallet were things I consciously incorporated into my own visual.

Cartoon of fish and how different visible traits of the fish get passed down and how DNA functions and the appearance of the fish evolves over time in this inheritance process

(image credit: screenshot of Jessica Rick’s blog post)
If I can coordinate what is happening using as few colors and moving pieces as possible, in theory I can provide something easy to follow. I tried experimenting with some shading (arrows and estrogen molecule) and texture techniques as well as some font design (Prolactin and PAD). My development of both techniques is in a very nascent state, but I had a TON of fun experimenting, failing, and trying again, which is really what matters!There is a lot I would revise about this visual, but the thing that sticks out to me the most is the second graders’ handwriting I was insistent on using for whatever reason… I had a hard time finding a medium between typed font and hand drawn visuals. I hope to bridge that gap by exploring how to draw on graphic design software.

Reference Visuals:

Digital illustration of the location of the pituitary gland in the brain; colors are shades of pink

I used this visual to show anatomically where the pituitary gland is located in the body and the functional anatomy of the gland. I consciously focused on maintaining the ratio of sizes between the two. (Screenshot of a webpage by the Scottish Acquired Brain Injury Network)

Screenshot of hand-drawn stock illustrations of science-related images from

These inspired my use of shading and molecule structure when drawing both estrogen and DNA molecules. (image credit: Screenshot of hand-drawn stock illustrations of science-related images from

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