By: Shreyoshi Chakraborti
Janet Iwasa is a data visualization expert and an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Utah. Being a molecular biologist by training, she drifted her interest to the animation of cellular processes, to better understand the dynamics and mechanism of the events inside of cells. Hence, she is renowned for her contributions to molecular and cellular visualizations.
Born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1978, Iwasa was the youngest child in the family. Her family moved to Maryland once her father joined the National Institutes of Health. She grew up with an interest in science and wanted to be a little different than her two elder brothers. Her father was a physicist and his career inspired Janet to be a scientist. She chose the track of molecular biology and in High School did an internship at Institutes of Genome Research.
In 1999, she graduated from Williams College with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Asian Studies. In 2006, she received her Ph.D. in cell biology from the University of California, San Francisco for her research on the actin cytoskeleton. Iwasa was invested in microscopy in her first year at UCSF. During her lab meeting, she once encountered the 3D image of Kinesin, a protein of the cytoskeleton of cells, and was inspired by it. Later she started taking animation classes at San Francisco State University. She did her postdoctoral research with Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital. She became a lecturer in Molecular Visualizations for the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard. In 2010, Iwasa invested her time in completing a project called Molecular Flipbook, open-source software designed to animate molecules.
In 2013, she joined as a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Janet’s award-winning illustrations and animations of cellular mechanisms have appeared in scientific journals including Nature, Science, and Cell, as well as in the New York Times. Her work has also been featured on television and in museum exhibits. Janet was named a 2014 TED fellow and recognized as one of the “100 Leading Global Thinkers” of 2014 by Foreign Policy magazine and one of the “100 Most Creative People” of 2012 by Fast Company magazine.