Visualization – Viruses: are they alive?



For my visualization, I picked an abstract concept that can be hard for students to understand; the general idea can stick with them for a long time, but the specifics of why aren’t always easy to remember.

When studying viruses, one of the big concepts we learn about is how they are not considered to be living things by most scientists. In order to categorize living things, several criteria were settled on which we can apply to viruses to see where they stand. For my project, I could have chosen images to represent each of these subcategories, but I felt that might make the infographic a little cluttered. So, my only real “image” is an artistic rendering of what individual virions would look like under an electron microscope. There are additional visual characteristics which aid in understanding as well. In light-blue are listed the characteristics of living things. Listed next to these are characteristics of viruses which could either confirm or reject each criterion. From each viral characteristic comes either a red line leading to the conclusion “not alive” or a green line leading to the conclusion “alive”. Students were directed at the top to either agree or disagree with the scientific conclusion that viruses are not considered alive. Additionally, at the end is a “deep thought” point, asking the students to think about a property of viruses that wasn’t covered by the list above.

By creating this visualization, I was able to think more critically about how each point would apply to the virus itself. I was also able to make my own interpretations of whether each point led to a virus being considered alive or not. This allowed me to think of different ways students may approach this problem. Seeing it visually made it easier to understand how there is sufficient evidence on each side of the argument for the question to be unsettled. Reading alone would not have allowed for seeing the argument as a whole picture with “amounts” of evidence on each side.

In completing this visualization task, it was easy for me to see how this would be beneficial for students. Viruses being alive or not is only one of many abstract concepts in science that can be hard to understand through simply reading or direct instruction. There are also many concepts that cannot be explored through laboratory, the living properties of viruses being one of them. In this simple infographic, a student could see each of the reasons why scientists make the decisions they do, and they would be able to make their own decision as well. I think this would be one of many wonderful tools to help students not only understand different topics, but also help supplement their reading and develop their literacy.

One thought on “Visualization – Viruses: are they alive?

  1. Thank you for clearing up a few things and posing a few new questions for me. I like how easy to read your infographic is. The use of color coding particularly appeals to me and the Yes/No strategy makes this feel like a fun back a forth for a topic kill you.


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