Ball and Stick, Apple and Orange

Science Daily reported on research from Rice University that had actually appeared in a press release from Rice last week. Go figure. The new article includes the above image, however, which could be perceived as an improvement (or not) over the text-only copy from Rice.

A quick glance at the image caused a sudden nag, and I started to browse on before I figured out what was bothering me.

The nanotube should be made of atoms, right? Presumably those little grey shiny balls in the molecular model above. But interior to the nanotube, we see brightly-colored (one might be tempted to call them radioactive-looking) blobs that look like a scanning-electron micrograph of something-or-other. But these are supposed to be atoms! Specifically, astatine atoms, which should be a fair bit bigger than shown here.

This isn’t a big deal, I suppose, but it’s oddly distracting. First off, they use different visual vocabulary to represent the same kind of thing: atoms are shown in two distinctly different ways in the above image. Secondly (and I know I’m going out on a limb here), the image they choose perhaps even vaguely suggests cancerous cells… And given that the press release concerns using nanotubes to treat cancer, that’s potentially problematic.

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