Seeing the Invisible: 50 Years of Macromolecular Visualization

Ribbon Drawings

Jane Richardson spent an entire year learning how to create flat two-dimensional ribbon drawings that convey the three-dimensional shape of a protein molecule. This new visual language illustrated a 170-page article that classified such patterns across the known protein structures, is still highly cited 40 years later, even in wikipedia. This page contains the actual historical steps taken in 1979 to create the hand-drawn ribbon for Staphylococcal nuclease.

In 2019, the Richardson Lab began donating some of their historical work to the Duke University Medical Center Archives; the originals of many of the works shown here are now permanently held by the archive and were generously loaned for this exhibition.

3D coordinates for Cα atoms

3D coordinates for Cα atoms

Three-dimensional coordinates for atoms
The full crystal structure of Staphylococcal nuclease (PDB file 1sns) contains 1172 atoms of backbone, sidechains, ligands, and waters. The schematic ribbon drawing was made from a plot of just the 142 Cα atoms listed here. [Arnone et al. 1971, J. Biol. Chem. 248:2302]

Small stereo pair of C trace

Small stereo pair of C trace

Small stereo pair of C trace
For Jane to see the three-dimensional shape of the molecule while drawing.