AMI 2018: Setting the “bah” high in Boston!

by Sam Bond

The 73rd annual meeting of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) took place in Newton, Massachusetts in late July 2018. With over 450 attendees, the conference’s audience included both long standing and newly joined members of the Association, biomedical visualization professionals, students, scientists, researchers, and guests. With the countless backgrounds and interests of our membership, the sessions of #AMI2018 reflected the extensive impact our profession has on fields within science and art as we heard from leaders in our own field as well as invited scientists, physicians, designers, and educators from world-class Boston institutions and beyond.

Education and Exploration

The first day of the annual AMI conference began with workshops for continuing education, diving into a wide variety of topics relevant to our diverse membership. While some members spent time investigating exciting and cutting edge new interactive technologies, others brushed up on software skills like Pixologic ZBrush and Adobe Illustrator, or even investigated traditional sketching strategies at the Harvard Museum of Natural History! Workshops provided members with the opportunity to hone crafts, experiment with their favorite programs, and learn new strategies to further advance their own work. Jean-Bernard Caron charges down labyrinthine hallways hidden behind the galleries of the historic Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. The stately old building is the perfect backdrop for discussing the transfer of knowledge from scientists to the public.

Photo of the annual AMI Salon opening to attendees and guests.
The annual AMI Salon opening to attendees and guests. © Ted Kucklick.

The Salon Opening, one of the most loved and highly anticipated events of the conference, occurred later that evening. The AMI Salon has been a pillar of the annual conference and serves as a resource and inspiration to members and viewers alike. During the opening, attendees, including both long-standing and new members, speakers, and guests gathered to view the vast and impressive array of works submitted to this year’s salon. Categorized by media, attendees could explore aisles of stunning printed illustrations and video of cutting edge technologies or animations submitted by both professional and student members. The opening gave creators and viewers an exciting period of discussion and networking while surrounded by the best in medical visualization. Though the conference has passed, anyone is able to view this phenomenal library of work within the AMI2018 Online Salon. Later that evening, mentors and mentees within the AMI gathered to present their AMI mentor program trading cards, a new staple of the annual conference!

Photo of AMI members Kip Carter and Esther Chun-Chun Ng show.
AMI members Kip Carter and Esther Chun-Chun Ng show off their personal trading cards at the annual mentor-mentee gathering. © Ted Kucklick.

Inspiration, Inclusion, Involvement

The AMI conference never fails to deliver in captivating attendees with inspiring and exciting talks on subjects ranging from artistic technique to scientific discovery. This year’s conference was certainly no exception, kicking off with the President’s message from Carolyn Holmes. Holmes led a rousing call to action for acceptance, involvement, and inclusion within the association that brought the entire conference to a standing ovation.

Over the next three days, 60 speakers in 13 plenary sessions and 5 concurrents gave talks on a wide range of topics relevant to medical illustrators. Thursday’s sessions left the audience inspired and in awe, examining technical opportunities and brand new methods of visualization in molecular science and biology. Taking a metaphorical magnifying glass to molecules and cells, Session 2 speakers Gaël McGill, Veronica Falconieri, and Graham Johnson (Allen Integrated Cell Explorer) described vital considerations and exciting techniques for cellular visualization. Later in the day, speakers discussed some of the most important but overlooked components of the field: business and marketing. Ending with the annual Roundtable sessions allowed members and attendees of all backgrounds to meet, engage, and discuss their connection to the field.

Photo of Gaël McGill
Photo of Veronica Falconieri
Photo of Graham Johnson
Gaël McGill, Veronica Falconieri, and Graham Johnson © Ted Kucklick.

The following day, speakers addressed anatomical app development, user experience design, and business strategies in a series of TED-style talks and concurrent sessions. One session, a vital core of the annual conference, was Session 7: Diversity. These speakers dove into the unique need and lack of current resources for sexual and gender minority visuals. Speakers also called for greater consideration of accessible design in medical interactive development, an aspect often not prioritized. These notes were echoed in a subsequent lightning talk by Todd Buck, emphasizing the opportunities illustrators have to promote inclusivity by creating images with cultural diversity. Amy Robinson-Sterling gave an update on Eyewire Museum with 1,000+ neuron models free to download. Kyle McClary, #VIZBI Art & Biology winner, talked about connecting artists and scientists at BridgeArtSci. Another favorite session of the meeting, the Techniques Showcase allowed presenters to demonstrate specific new skills, exciting technologies, and more, including workflows in software like Pixologic ZBrush and experiences in Virtual Reality. Between the Showcase, concurrent sessions, lightning talks, and the Vesalius Trust poster session, attendees were buzzing with enthusiasm and had no lack of interesting sessions to attend!

Photo of AMI member Emily Shaw presenting a surgical simulation in virtual reality.
AMI member Emily Shaw presents member Jeni Hollis with a look at a burgeoning surgical simulation in virtual reality! © Ted Kucklick.

In the final day of the conference, speakers certainly proved that last was not least! Speakers told emphatic and inspirational stories on animation and video, including Peg Gerrity, who showcased the use of simple tools to create 2D animations from the perspective of a seasoned traditional illustrator, and Jeff Day, who walked through the experience of using YouTube for online animations at MedlinePlus. Further sessions closely inspected anatomy and science, including Gili Naveh’s walkthrough of 3D dental tissue imaging, Scott Chimileski’s passion to change the public’s fear of microbes and preserve our microbiome diversity, as well as interesting voyages into unknown software territory, such as Kristen Browne’s work on NLM3D, an open source library of anatomical models. With such a unique assortment of talks, every attendee was able to find something of inspiration and relevance, regardless of background and interests.

Stories, Studies, and Scrutiny: The Three Keynotes of AMI 2018

Much like the membership of the association, the three keynote speakers of AMI 2018 came from wildly different backgrounds to present unique and fascinating facets of their research and careers. The first session’s keynote speaker, Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, took attendees on a fascinating and complex journey, starting in the hazy beginnings of clinical trials and traveling through the history of data collection and modern best practices in the sharing of data. The following day, Dr. Eric Klopfer, Director of the MIT Education Arcade, cruised through an introduction to game-based learning theories and principles of modern educational games, even touching on the infamous “chocolate-covered broccoli” motif that many learning games suffer from (read his open access book Resonant Games). On the final day of the conference, the Muriel McLatchie Lecture was led by the remarkable Katrina van Grouw, author and illustrator of bird anatomy, examining her long-fought journey to publication and methodology behind creating truly artistic and accurate anatomical visuals. Though vastly different in content, all three lectures resonated with the membership as diverse and interesting journeys within biomedical visualization stories, reflective of the field’s widespread impact.

Photo of Dr. Jeffrey Drazen
Photo of Dr. Eric Klopfer
Photo of Katrina van Grouw
Keynote speakers left to right: Dr. Jeffrey Drazen of NEJM; Dr. Eric Klopfer of the MIT Education Arcade; Katrina van Grouw, author of The Unfeathered Bird. © Ted Kucklick.

Honoring Accomplishment and Recognizing Excellence

The annual awards banquet allows the Association of Medical Illustrators to honor members for commitment and accomplishment in AMI service, as well as give recognition to works of excellence submitted to the annual salon. The award winners of this year’s salon, along with all of the remarkable pieces submitted, are viewable via the Online Salon.

Ralph Sweet Member's Choice Award (Still Media): Natalie Koscal, "Cardiac Anatomy of 22-Month-Old Conjoined Twins with Complex Congenital Heart Disease".
View in Online Salon

Members Choice in New Media Award: Elizabeth Nixon-Shapiro, Amanda Behr and Michael Jensen, "Xytex Presents: Specimen Collection and Processing".
View in Online Salon

Orville Parkes Student Best of Show (Still Media): Lisa Qiu, "Tomorrow’s Perfect Humans". View in Online Salon

New Media Student Best of Show: Amanda Slade, "Resurrecting an Ancient Bite: Virtual Chewing Model Sheds Light on One of the Earliest Primates”.
View in Online Salon

The JBC Literary Award was given to Sarah Kim, Leila Lax, Dana Ross, Derek Ng, Diana Grossi, Renu Gupta, Sanjeev Sockalingam, Robin Mason, and Valerie Taylor for their article, “Visualizing the Neurobiology of Trauma: Design and evaluation of an eLearning module for continuing professional development of family physicians in the Online Psychiatric Education Network,” JBC 41-2, 2017.

Fabian de Kok-Mercado, Kevin Millar, Daniel Muller, and Ian Suk were inducted as Fellow of the AMI (FAMI) having attained over 1000 Fellow points by generously contributing their skill, time, and effort by performing volunteer service.

The Max Brödel Award for Excellence in Education is given to an AMI member who holds a remarkable regard for learning and a generosity of spirit in teaching. This year’s winner, Tonya Hines, though not always within a traditional academic setting, has heartily represented those traits throughout her career. During her heartfelt acceptance speech, Hines quoted Maya Angelou: “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.”

Photo of Katrina van Grouw
Lydia Gregg presents the Max Brodel Excellence in Education to winner Tonya Hines. © Ted Kucklick.

The Max Brödel Award for Excellence in Education is given to an AMI member who holds a remarkable regard for learning and a generosity of spirit in teaching. This year’s winner, Tonya Hines, though not always within a traditional academic setting, has heartily represented those traits throughout her career. During her heartfelt acceptance speech, Hines quoted Maya Angelou: “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.”

Photo of Katrina van Grouw
Margot Mackay (left) and Sue Seif (right) present the AMI 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award to Bill Andrews (center). © Ted Kucklick.

See you soon!

The 2018 AMI conference allowed attendees to spend quality time together, learning new things and discussing all facets of the profession. To close the meeting, the Vesalius Trust celebrated their 30th Anniversary with a Bon Voyage Event featuring good food, music, auction items and a cartooning competition—all for a good cause. Though the event has ended, the online salon and memories will continue to live on!

We wish the best to all attendees and give enormous thanks to all of our generous sponsors. We hope you’ll all join us next year for the 2019 conference in Milwaukee!

Photo of Katrina van Grouw
2019 AMI Conference Chair, Todd Buck. © Ted Kucklick.
Photo of Katrina van Grouw