Monday, April 13, 2020 - 4:14pm
By:
Alan Flurry

Dan Higgins (BFA ’93) and Alissa Eckert (BFA ’04) created the COVID-19 image that people around the world are using to understand the pandemic:

[I]n addition to being University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Lamar Dodd School of Art alumni, Dan and Alissa are medical illustrators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. Alissa remembers receiving a phone call on a Tuesday in January. A new virus that originated in China was spreading rapidly and the public needed to understand the gravity of the situation. An arresting visual would give the virus a face, making tangible something people can’t see with the naked eye. Dan and Alissa worked together to research and pose questions to the subject matter experts in the lab at the CDC. Armed with that information, Dan jumped on the World Protein Data Bank and downloaded images of each of the three main proteins that make up the virus. Pulling those files into a data visualization tool, he was able to export them as three-dimensional (3D) images.

It was Alissa who combined those pieces together to begin to form the image that is so familiar today. With input from CDC scientists, they identified how many of each protein to show, how the spatial distancing should appear and where the lighting should come from in order to establish the proper depths. Dan and Alissa muted the colors to convey the seriousness of the situation. They were careful not to make the virus look playful.

As Alissa explains, “We didn’t want it to look like a toy.”

They created a high contrast image with strong details and textures, elements that bring the virus to life and make it seem real and touchable. After an intense seven straight days of work, the pair finalized the now-famous image for approvals on the following Monday morning.

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Image: The CDC staff of scientific/medical visualization experts – Front row: Stephanie Pfeiffer Rossow (BSA ’13), Alissa Hogan Eckert (BFA ’04), Jennifer Hulsey Oosthuizen (BFA ’05); Back Row: Dan Higgins (BFA ’93), Meredith Boyter Newlove (BFA ’04) (photo provided by Dan Higgins)