Project Showcase: Hormone Season for Scientific American

We illustrate one reason why there are so many Virgos, Libras, and Scorpios out there.


Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have confirmed that spikes in hormonal activity are correlated to seasonality—or, as they put it in a peer–reviewed article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA:

The gland masses grow with a timescale of months due to trophic effects of the hormones, generating a feedback circuit with a natural frequency of about a year that can entrain to the seasons. Thus, humans may show coordinated seasonal set-points with a winter−spring peak in the growth, stress, metabolism, and reproduction axes.

The original paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

To communicate the immensely interesting findings to their readership and beyond, Scientific American asked us to help them visualize the clock–like rhythms of hormonal growth.

A recreation of our process, from plotting to coloring and refinement.

A team led by Accurat Co-Director of Technology Mariano Viola pored over the research paper and consulted our Data Scientist Otho Mantegezza—who has a PhD in biomolecular sciences, to boot—for extra help in cleaning and organizing a .CSV file filled with raw scientific data. In R Studio, he plotted variables in a small multiples visualization, essentially sketching an outline for each dataviz. Designers were left to simply refine graphic elements with respect to style and layout.

The collaboration is our most recent with Scientific American. Since 2016, we’ve developed a full–page spread from Julian D’Huy’s research on how the evolution of folktales can shed light on patterns of human migration, and visualized the makeup of the Svalbard Vault: a protected store of 1.05 million environmentally regenerative plant seeds.

The oldest continuously published magazine in the United States, Scientific American has made the work of researchers accessible to ordinary people since 1845. Its journalists often play double duty as translators, reworking academic texts—such as the one by scientists at Weizmann Institute of Science—into journalism comprehensible to laypeople. Data visualization is therefore an essential item in editors’ toolkits—it obviates the need for words altogether.

See the full spread below, or read a digital version on Scientific American’s website.

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