25. Janet Iwasa

Molecular Animator of Harvard University, How To Create The Future

25. Janet Iwasa
Illustration by Alison Cowles


Produces animations with researchers to help them test and uncover hypotheses about molecular processes


What does the biotech field need more of?

“Our hypotheses in molecular biology are becoming increasingly complex, but the ways in which biologists are visualizing these hypotheses remain relatively crude. Having better models will allow researchers to see their work in a different light and to formulate different and better questions.”

How can creativity improve your field?

“I’m always thinking about aesthetics. While scientific accuracy is of utmost importance in my models and animations of molecules, I’m also looking for a pleasing balance of color, shape, and lighting. The better I can make a molecule look, the more a researcher or student is likely to look at it, and the more they can gain scientifically.”

What impediment do you often come across?

“Making out-of-the-box software–designed for animating people and animals–work for animating molecules and cells isn’t easy. I’ve dealt with this in two ways: just tinkering around on the computer in my animation software until I come to a reasonable solution; or getting away from my computer, going for a walk, sleeping on it, or chatting with fellow animators.”

Click here to see head-to-head responses to these questions from Iwasa, plus computer scientist Miriah Meyer, and research scientist Nina Tandon, Nos. 24 and 26 on our Most Creative People list.



  • 1999

    Enters the University of California, San Francisco as a graduate student; joins Dyche Mullins lab to study molecular underpinnings of how cells crawl

  • 2004

    Takes animation course at San Francisco State University; starts animating molecular hypotheses at Dyche Mullins lab

  • 2006

    Graduates from UCSF with PhD in cell biology; graduates from Gnomon School of Visual Effects

  • 2006

    Joins laboratory of Nobel laureate Jack W. Szostak at Massachusetts General Hospital; starts “Exploring Origins” project to describe theories on life formation on early Earth

  • 2008

    Joins faculty at Harvard Medical School

  • 2011

    Receives grant from the National Science Foundation to develop software that allows researchers to readily and intuitively create their own molecular animations