Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



April/May 2011

Diversity/Careers April/May 2011 Issue

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  Johns Hopkins APL


At Digizyme, co-founder Jeannie Park handles many jobs

Digizyme is a scientific multimedia company that integrates cutting-edge Web technologies, graphic design and animation to create interactive content

Jeannie Park helps create 'immersive and interactive' scientific content.Jeannie Park is owner and co-founder of Digizyme (Brookline, MA), a small but growing company. She works as a project manager and does Web and multimedia programming and graphic design. She works directly with clients and also manages finances.

Digizyme is a Web and multimedia company that integrates cutting-edge technologies, graphic design and 3D animation to create "immersive and interactive" scientific content for the life-sciences industry, which includes biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, hospitals and academic research labs, Park explains. The name came about because the company sees itself as a sort of "digital enzyme," catalyzing the exchange of complex scientific ideas and technologies.

Focus on visualization
The company focuses on "bio-visualization:" websites and animations that illuminate the fascinating 3D inner workings of the cellular world. This is done using Autodesk Maya 3D animation software, the same software used in the movie Avatar. The company creates plug-ins for Maya that can, for example, import structural data on proteins and other biological components to create accurate structural visualizations.

Once animated, the end products serve as valuable educational pieces. "They are also visually stunning," Park notes.

One of the company's interesting current projects is a digital textbook for high school and college biology. It's called E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth and will be available through a website and on tablet devices, Park says. "Right now we're working on a prototype chapter on cell division, and we're discovering how we can take advantage of multimedia to convey complex concepts that are difficult to describe through words alone."

Complicated approach
Park came to her career in a roundabout way, and says she took a while to discover herself. She graduated from Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA) in 1994 with a BA in music and literature. After graduation she taught fifth and sixth grade elementary school for a year, then took a job as assistant director of admissions at the New England Conservatory in Boston. "But I wanted more," Park says.

So she went to work for a chemistry professor at Harvard. He was interested in multimedia, and "I did visualizations for this professor, went on to a certification in software engineering from Harvard and began using digital media in science," she says.

Her partner Gael McGill, now her husband, was getting his PhD in cancer research at Harvard Medical School at the time. "He was also getting visualization requests. We saw there was all this beautiful data out there and it wasn't being fully presented. We incorporated in 1999."

Visuals for the biotechs and pharmaceuticals
The partners soon found that biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms needed visuals to explain the science in layman's terms to an audience that included potential investors. "We had the ability to understand the client's technology or science and express it visually. The still graphics and animations we developed really spoke to the audience," Park says. "We realize a serious need for scientifically-informed graphic design and animation services, and our client base started to grow rapidly beyond New England.

"I've worked with hundreds of clients now, and have a good concept of what they're looking for. Unlike the rest of our team, I don't have formal scientific training, but I've now been involved in so many projects dealing with cell and molecular biology, for example, that I can develop meaningful and engaging visuals that clarify their technology or science," she says.

Digizyme also works with the academic community. Academic grants often support scientific collaborations from multiple institutions, and need a unified Web presence accessible by all the partners.

Managing Web development
Park manages the interface design and Web programming. Her husband works more directly with the scientists and manages the 3D visualization end of the company.

The work is a logical transition for Park. "There is a common element with music, using analytic problem-solving skills, and that has carried over into my current work. I enjoy the logic behind the process that results in something visual."

As a manager, Park looks for the potential in people. "My opportunity with Professor Schreiber at Harvard came about because I expressed an interest and he encouraged me to pursue it. What we look for here is people who are excited, self-motivated problem-solvers."

Managing has its challenges, too. Park is very detail-oriented, but now she has to look at the bigger picture. "A lot of work and time is spent on communicating. It can be difficult at times, but it's also rewarding. We've been fortunate to find people who are motivated and interested in stretching their capabilities."

Park grew up near Philadelphia, PA. She is of Korean descent. She still enjoys playing the violin and piano when she gets a chance, and of course "I'm interested in photography and video right now," she says. "Over the years I've strengthened my video editing skills on my own, and I look forward to using those skills as Digizyme grows."


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