Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The comeback of hand drawing in modern life sciences



Scientific manuscripts are full of images. Since the birth of the life sciences, these images were in a form of hand drawings, with great examples from da Vinci, Hooke, van Leeuwenhoek, Remak, Buffon, Bovery, Darwin, Huxley, Haeckel and Gray's Anatomy to name a few. However, in the course of the past century, photographs and simplified schematics have gradually taken over as a way of illustrating scientific data and concepts, assuming that these are 'accurate' representations of the truth. Here, we argue for the importance of reviving the art of scientific drawings as a way of effectively communicating complex scientific ideas to both specialists and the general public.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Three different presentations of a bladder carcinoma.


  1. Lister, J. in Transactions of the International Medical Congress, 7th session (ed. MacCormac, W.) 311–312 (London, 1881).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Hildebrand, M. Symmetrical gaits of horses. Science 150, 701–708 (1965).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Gould, S. J. Wonderful Life (Norton, 1989).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Wingate, R. & Kwint, M. Imagining the brain cell: the neuron in visual culture. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 7, 745–752 (2006).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Goodsell, D. S. The Machinery of Life 2nd edn (Copernicus, 2009).

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work has received support under the program “Investissements d'Avenir” launched by the French Government and implemented by Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) with the references ANR-10-LBX-0038, ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL. We are grateful to B. Baum (University College London, UK) and M. Piel (Institut Curie, Paris, France) for instructive discussions and suggestions for the manuscript. We would like to thank Y. Allory and F. Radvanyi (Institut Curie, Paris, France) for kindly sharing images.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Renaud Chabrier or Carsten Janke.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Related links

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chabrier, R., Janke, C. The comeback of hand drawing in modern life sciences. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 19, 137–138 (2018).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing