Friday, February 3, 2012

Coloring Chemistry - Useful, or Distracting?

Credit: JACS, Stepien group

While flipping through the JACS ASAP abstracts, I noticed this scheme from a group in Poland. My first thought, though, was not "Oh, cool, fused* porphyrins."

Nope. Instead, I thought "The coloring bug has spread!"

Credit: ACIEE, Nicolaou group
See, for a few years now, certain organic chemists have begun to "ink" their reaction schemes. At first, the rationalization was beauty, the notion that artistic flair livened up the work. Then, the noveau artistes spoke of functionality, indicating similarly sized groups, say, or drawing the reader's eye to certain molecular features (Note: go here or here for Derek's ITP take, or here for TotSyn's)

Lately, though, it's like a child has spilled his watercolor paints all over the abstract. Maybe these guys should team up on that new ACS coloring book.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of scientific visualizations that help illustrate a concept, like the winners of the 2011 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. And seminar slides with some red or blue structures never hurt anyone. But colored reaction schemes seem, to me, to be more about catching the eye (Wow, look over there!) than communicating good science.

Credit: JACS, Glorius group
Readers, what do you think? Am I just missing the point here? Or do you find the coloring-book approach equally vexing? 

I look forward to a spirited debate in the comments!

*(Bonus chemistry word of the day, for those playing at home: tetrabenzochrysenoporphyrin!)


  1. Frank Glorius, if you're reading thIs: stop. Just stop.

  2. Sadly, Excimer, I don't think that many big-time profs read my blog....yet.

    (Attention - If you're a big-name professor reading my blog, won't you please comment? Thanks!)

  3. I confess that if I see a colored graphical abstract, I'll skip right past it. Terrible, I know.

  4. The non-chemist's take: The first image looks like it should be chem software box art. (Compare with an ad brochure for something like Matlab or Mathematica: Look! Functions!) The second is ok but needlessly hard to read, and the color isn't actually adding anything. We might be getting somewhere on the third one except for that awful green background, unless the red coloring is arbitrary and doesn't actually mean that the red part on the left is related to the red part on the right. I'm sensing that color in these things is a cousin of the old Powerpoint animated slide transition craze.

  5. I think that people who do this should be spanked. Well, ok -- just joking. But still, it IS annoying. There's one place where it might have an application though. If you're drawing something aimed at laypeople and you want it to look very artistic, I guess this might have its uses. But to me it's just distracting.