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Scientific American

Nerve Signaling Theories: Electrical and Mechanical

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Full page illustration created for the article "The Brain, ReImagined" by Douglas Fox in Scientific American 318, 60 – 67. The article described two theories of nerve signal propagation. This piece draws the viewer in with a charismatic neuron, and illustrates the two theories in parallel, allowing the viewers to easily compare & contrast. Simplified models were used for the ion channels, so that excess visual complexity didn't add to the high cognitive load required to interpret the piece.

Veronica Falconieri Hays / Falconieri Visuals, LLC

Falconieri Visuals

medical animation of Falconieri Visuals scientific, biological, and medical animation demo reel. Includes: Mechanism of action, molecular animation, scientific techniques, biotechnology, 2D animation, and 3D animation
medical illustration of The trick to fitting 2 meters of DNA into a 0.000006 meter wide nucleus and keeping it organized? Loops. Lots of loops.

This 1.5 page spread illustrates the relationship of DNA to chromatin, the density of chromatin packing in the nucleus, and schematically shows how chromatin loops are formed that both prevent entanglement and allow for gene regulation. 

Aiden EL. Untangling the Genome. Sci Am. 2019 Mar;320(3):54–5.
medical illustration of Website header / journal cover developed for Synlogic Therapeutics in collaboration with Verge Scientific Communications. 
E. coli Nissle bacterium with a graphic representation of its modified chromosome / plasmid.
Cover, Science Translation Medicine, January 2019.
medical illustration of Molecular structure of a single copy (virion) of the Zika virus, similar to Dengue virus.

Disease; Virology; Pathology, Molecule; Infectious
medical illustration of Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) helps scientists identify who the bone fragments found at archaeological sites belonged to - Humans? Bears? Horses? - by analyzing the bone’s unique collagen fingerprint.
Oh and it uses a laser. Because science is awesome.
Illustration for Scientific American: Higham T, Douka K. Needle in the Haystack. Sci Am. 2018;319(6):44.

Winner, BioImages 2019 Natural Science Illustration Citation of Merit
medical illustration of Deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, shown in three three-dimensional (3D) styles: surface, ball and stick, and stylized Bohr's atoms. Line drawings of the individual bases (Adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine) are shown in the background.

Genes; genetics; gene editing; nucleic acid;molecule; molecular
medical illustration of Full page layout for Scientific American magazine illustrating the difference between two theories of nerve signal propagation- the classic chemical theory, involving ion transport and depolarization, and a newer mechanical theory based on biophysical phenomena in axon membranes. 

Winner, BioImages 2019 Medical Illustration Citation of Merit
medical illustration of Nature Reviews Drug Discovery journal cover showing electron radiation during cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) imaging differentially affecting different types of amino acids within a protein structure.

Medical illustration; scientific illustration; molecular visualization
medical illustration of 3D illustration of a hip replacement in place, showing the pelvis (innominate bone and sacrum), L4-L5 lumbar vertebrae, and femur.
medical illustration of The goal of immunotherapy is for a patient's own immune system to attack cancer cells. One mechanism of action (MoA) of immunotherapy drugs is activating T-cells that have been made dormant by interaction with cancer cells. The drug interrupts the deactivation signal from the cancer cell, allowing the T-cell to recognize the cancer and destroy it. 
This mix 3D color and 2D vector style illustration shows this basic mechanism, resulting in cancer cell death (apoptosis).
medical illustration of Illustration for journal cover of high resolution 3D molecular data determined by cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), a structural biology method. High resolution structures can enable drug discovery. Background: Density map for entire molecule. Foreground: Segment of density map with corresponding amino acids shown as ball and stick model and stylized Bohr-model inspired atoms.
medical animation of Dynamic 3D animation of an antibody (immunoglobulin), a key component of the immune system and immune response.
medical illustration of This image visualizes the cell types of the central nervous system (including the brain and spinal cord) and their 3d relationships in the brain. Pyramidal neurons and interneurons are shown (blue), as well as glial cells including: oligodendrocytes (pink), an astrocyte (peach), a microglial cell (white), and a capillary with red blood cells.
medical illustration of Specialized spikes (envelope glycoproteins, Env,  colored orange, red, and yellow), stand out on the surface of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The spikes allow HIV to attach to CD4 and CCR5 proteins (blue, purple) on human immune cells. 
Researchers are developing versions of Env for vaccines, so that the immune system will recognize and combat the real spikes on invading viruses if a person is exposed to HIV.
Sanders et al., HIV’s Achille's Heel. Scientific American 315(6): 53.
medical animation of This 3D animation still shows the effects of detergent on a fibroblast in culture (in vitro) during preparation for fluorescent labeling.  The cell is first fixed with paraformaldehyde, and then the membrane is dissolved with detergent, exposing the inner structures to labels.

Keywords: Cytoskeleton, cell model, organelles, actin, microtubules, filaments, cell membrane, micelles, lipid bilayer, nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum, vesicles, petri dish
medical animation of Glycosylation (carbohydrate chain) on a red blood cell membrane protein.

Cell membrane, molecule, molecular
medical illustration of Under normal conditions, receptor tyrosine kinase Flt-1 (teal) binds to the ligand PlGF (orange). However, in preeclampsia, soluble Flt-1 (sFlt-1, dark teal) binds PlGF and prevents it from reaching Flt-1.

These images use color and composition to highlight the difference between both conditions. 

Keywords: Lipid bilayer, cell membrane, membrane protein, growth factor, cell signalling, MoA, dimer, RTK, cell surface
medical animation of Video overview of cryo-EM technique, from purified protein solution to 3D structure. Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) is an emerging structural biology method that recently achieved atomic resolution. This resolution is on par with the more traditional technique of X-ray crystallography. Cryo-EM now makes it possible to study a wider range of 3D molecular structures at high resolution.
This video version was created in collaboration with Science Magazine (narration, content cut direction)
medical illustration of Subject:  Nanoscopic 3D data of mouse salivary cells, salivary acinus anatomy
Objective: Highlight the capabilities of focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) in studying nanoscale biological features, using the example of a mouse salivary gland. These capabilities include not only 3D structural data, but many individual 2D images that capture multiple instances of a process, as demonstrated by the inset of the 3 stages of salivary vesicle fusion.
medical animation of Video of DNA strand modeled in 3D to spell DNA in cursive. This 3D animation shows surface, molecular, and ladder models for DNA.

Deoxyribonucleic acid; genetics; genes; gene therapy; base pairs; nucleotides
medical illustration of This molecule, beta-galactosidase, has been studied by the structural biology technique cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) in order to determine its structure. As cryo-EM technology has improved, the resolution of the resulting structures has improved from rough, low resolution maps (blue, left) to high resolution maps that enable model fitting (gold, right).

Cryo-electron microscopy received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
medical illustration of This illustration highlights 3 cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures of a gated ion channel in the brain in 3 conformations (left - resting, middle - active, right - desensitized).

Ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs) mediate intercellular signaling in the nervous system. Their pore domain crosses the neuron's cell membrane, and when activated, they allow ions to flow across the membrane.
medical illustration of Ebola in 3D juxtaposes a real cryo-electron tomographic image of an Ebola virus-like particle and 3D model of an Ebola virus. The structure of the spike was determined by cryo-electron tomography from the tomography images.
This illustration was created using Maxon Cinema4D, ePMV, and Adobe Photoshop.
Recognition: 2016 NSF Vizzies Illustration Category Finalist
medical illustration of This journal figure illustrates how the CENP-A nucleosome complex with CENP-N (
medical illustration of Diagram and molecular model of antibody (Ab) / immunoglobulin (Ig) structure.
medical illustration of Relative scales of important biological molecules with structures determined by cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM), including: dengue virus, T4 bacteriophage baseplate, ljungnan virus, human ribosome, human 26s proteasome, anaphase promoting complex (APC/C), AAA+ ATPase p97, anthrax protective antigen core, glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH), magnesiumi ion channel CorA, and isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH).
medical illustration of Journal figure highlighting a key binding site (or binding pocket) on the surface of a rhinovirus virion. The structure was determined by cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) and both the density map and atomic coordinates are shown.
medical illustration of Surface model of the membrane protein Vacuolar-type H+ -ATPase (V-ATPase) in a membrane (gray). Model derived from PDB data of a eukaryotic (yeast) V-ATPase. These molecular pumps hydrolyze ATP to ADP and use the energy to move protons across cellular membranes and thus control the pH of intracellular compartments.
medical illustration of This skull model was created from CT data exported from a DICOM viewer and refined in ZBrush.

Includes: Frontal bone, sphenoid, nasal bon, nasolacrimal groove, lacrimal bone, ethmoid, infraorbital foramen, maxilla, zygomatic bone, mental foramen, mental protuberance, mandible, zygomatic arch, mastoid process, external acoustic meatus, occipital bone, temporal bone, parietal bone
medical illustration of This image illustrates the histological context of the commonly shown neuromuscular junction (NMJ). The nerve end splits into several neural end plates on different muscle cells. The neural end plates divide and end in several boubons synapsing with the same muscle cell. 
Media: Cinema4D, Adobe Photoshop
medical illustration of 3D models of 2 glial cell types of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord): microglia and astrocyte.
medical illustration of This illustration shows an inactive G Protein Coupled Receptor (GPCR) in a plasma membrane. Potential ligands (purple, background)) diffuse in the extracellular space.

Keywords: lipid bilayer, plasma membrane, GPCR, cell signalling, receptor, membrane protein, ligand
medical illustration of Cover image accompanying article on CRISPR complex (Csy) from bacteria in complex with DNA and inhibitors. The molecule binds to invading bacteriophage (virus) DNA (orange) and splits the double helix open, preparing it for degradation by Cas proteins. Bacteria that deploy this immune system successfully can fend off viral invaders.

Guo et al. Cryo-EM structures reveal mechanism and inhibition of DNA targeting by a CRISPR-Cas surveillance complex. Cell. 2017 Oct 5;171(2):414-426.e12.
medical illustration of The magnesium ion channel CorA shifts between open and closed states depending on the concentration of magnesium ions inside of prokaryotic cells. Surprisingly, it abandons its symmetric closed shape for an asymmetric shape upon opening. 

In this cover image concept, CorA is seen in the open conformation. The stars represent the magnesium ions – since there are more outside of the membrane and few within, CorA opens.

This visual was created with Maxon Cinema4D, ePMV, and Adobe Photoshop.
medical illustration of This image was created to promote a publication on the protein p97 (purple, blue, and green), a target for cancer drugs in clinical trials. The paper featured 4 structures of p97: 3 stages of a normal ATP binding cycle, and an inhibited state brought on by the small molecule inhibitor (red). This 3D composite blends cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) data from all 4 molecular states to show how the inhibitor freezes p97 in place. This research informed ongoing oncology research.
medical illustration of 3D models of several common surgical instruments including electrosurgery device (bovie), claw retractor, scalpel, and hemostat.
medical illustration of Promotional visual combining images of three modeled influenza virion surfaces with varying hemagglutinin spikes from 3 strains: H1N1, chimeric H5/1N1, and H5N1. The spike structures, both unbound and bound by antibodies, were determined by cryo-electron tomography of whole viruses in order to inform universal influenza vaccine research and development.
medical illustration of Graphical abstract/TOC image accompanying publication on the structure of a CRISPR complex (Csy) from bacteria in complex with target DNA and inhibitors.

Guo et al.
Cryo-EM structures reveal mechanism and inhibition of DNA targeting by a CRISPR-Cas surveillance complex.
Cell. 2017 Oct 5;171(2):414-426.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.09.006
medical illustration of  Ras and PI3K (p85/p110) are two signaling pathways downstream of growth factor receptors that promote enhanced cell survival in cancer cells.  The molecules in these pathways are depicted using structures of human proteins from the PDB where available. Proteins with little or no structural data of the human protein are depicted as circles proportional to their molecular weight.
medical illustration of Two approaches to membrane protein preparation for cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) shown in schematic diagram format, including the GraDeR technique for excess detergent removal and nanodiscs.
medical illustration of This illustration summarizes 3 states of a gated ion channel in the brain (left - resting, middle - active, right - desensitized).

Ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs) mediate intercellular signaling in the nervous system. Their pore domain crosses the neuron's cell membrane, and when activated, they allow ions to flow across the membrane.
medical illustration of This diagram of cell structure was created to accompany a presentation slide emphasizing the importance of lipid bilayers (membranes) in cell biology.

Keywords: Nucleus, nucleolus, cytoplasm, rough endoplasmic reticulum, smooth ER, mitochondria, golgi apparatus, autophagosome, peroxisome, lysosome, endosome, lipid droplets, vesicles, chloroplasts, glyoxysomes, vacuole, cell wall. membrane proteins, ribosomes

This image was created in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.
medical illustration of Experimental technique for two-photon fluorescence microscopy in an awake marmoset in order to visualized blood vessels. Specialized skull prosthesis for microscope objective and custom designed cradle with ball and socket joint for under the microscope shown.
medical illustration of Summary for a surgical audience of the gracilis muscle graft for facial reanimation in cases of one-sided facial paralysis where prior neuroanastomosis of the facial nerve to a branch of the masseteric nerve was unsuccessful. A cross-facial nerve graft, anastomosed to a branch of the facial nerve on the non-paralyzed side, has been placed prior to the current surgery. 
Media: Pencil, Photoshop
medical illustration of This piece illustrates the anatomical relationship of the middle meningeal artery to the skull and meninges, as well as its role in extradural hematoma. It was designed for slide format.

Keywords: dura mater, diploic vein, Diploë, diploe, venous lacuna, arachnoid granulation, arachnoid mater, subarachnoid space, hematoma, superior sagittal sinus, pia mater, meningeal artery, common carotid artery, external carotid artery, maxillary artery, foramen spinosum, scalp, brain injury
medical illustration of This piece was selected for rendering from a complete series of sketches illustrating a parathyroidectomy. It was created for a surgical audience unfamiliar with the procedure and shows one of the most important steps of the procedure, identifying the recurrent laryngeal nerve prior to parathyroid mobilization. It was created in collaboration with the surgery department at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
Media: Pencil, Adobe Photoshop
medical illustration of A slide illustration of a neuron cell body (background), a white blood cell (neutrophil), E. coli bacteria, and two viruses. This slide demonstrates the relative scale of these important biological players.
This visual was created with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.
medical illustration of Brain anatomy/neuroanatomy, midsagittal view showing cingulate gyrus, central sulcus, fornix, choroid plexus, thalamus, posterior commissure, epiphysis (pineal gland), calcarine sulcus, quadrigeminal plate, cerebellum, fourth ventricle, cerebral aqueduct, choroid plexus, medulla oblongata, pyramid, tegmentum, pons, cerebral peduncle, third ventricle, mammillary body, hypophysis (pituitary gland), infundibulum, optic nerve, hypothalamus, anterior commissure, lateral ventricle, corpus callosum.
medical illustration of This piece illustrates pyeloplasty for a lay audience. The kidney pelvis is distended due to a stricture of diseased ureteral tissue immediately distal to the pelvis. During the procedure, the diseased tissue is removed, a stent is placed, and the healthy pelvis and ureter tissue are reconnected. The layout was designed for a single column illustration in a news publication.

This piece was created with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
medical illustration of The magnesium ion channel CorA shifts between open and closed states depending on the concentration of magnesium ions inside of prokaryotic cells.  Surprisingly, it abandons its symmetric closed shape (shown in the snowflake) for an asymmetric shape upon opening (multicolor


Veronica Falconieri Hays is a Certified Medical Illustrator specializing in medical, molecular, cellular, and biological visualization, including both still media and animation. Prior to founding Falconieri Visuals, Veronica earned her Master of Arts in Medical and Biological Illustration from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where she studied medical subjects such as anatomy alongside medical students, as well as completing coursework in illustration and animation. After graduating, Veronica worked within a cryo-electron microscopy lab at the National Cancer Institute. She collaborated extensively with researchers as they discovered structures of biological molecules, and is a published author in several journals including Science and Cell.


Animation, Airbrush, Black & White, Cartoon, Color, Information Graphics, Line with Color, 3D, Models, Video, Microscopy


Allergy / Immunology, Anatomy, Biology, Biotechnology, Cell biology / Histology, Disease Management, Emergency Medicine, Endocrinology / Metabolic, General Medicine, General Surgery, Genetics, Maternal / Child, Medical Devices, Molecular Biology, Natural History, Natural Science / Nature, Neuroscience, Neurosurgery, Orthopaedics, Pharmacology, Reconstructive Surgery, Transplantation Surgery, Vascular Surgery, Veterinary Medicine, Virology, Zoology, Injuries, Oncology, Mechanism of Action (MOA), Pathology, Plastic Surgery