Meet Mary O'Reilly, science illustrator and comic strip writer!

Hi, I'm Mary O'Reilly!

What do you work on?

I am a freelance science illustrator, which means that I work for scientists, making illustrations, graphics, and animations to help them explain their research findings to others. Sometimes they are technical drawings but oftentimes they want illustrations for journal covers or other venues that allow me to really get creative. In a series I do for fun, I even make comic strips about very recent advances (see an example below). Having a background in chemistry has helped me take an active role in conceptualizing other people’s science, which makes for an even more rewarding career. Most of my work revolves around chemistry, biology, and everything in between. You can see a lot of my work at www.oreillyscienceart.com.

How did you become interested in chemistry, and what did you study?

I had a great high school chemistry teacher and always loved chemistry. I didn’t really love doing labwork, but I loved learning the theory. It wasn’t until I got to college and started doing undergraduate research that I really got hooked on working in the lab. I learned that studying chemistry could lead you to make new discoveries. There is nothing like seeing something for the first time and being the only person in the world to know about it. I majored in chemistry but did undergraduate research in bioorganic chemistry. Then I got my Ph.D in biological chemistry, and did postdoctoral research in cell biology and immunology.

What do you do for fun in your spare time?

In my spare time I love reading, drawing, watching movies, seeing live music, and hanging out with my husband and our hilarious two sons, who are one and three years old.
Also for fun: translating recent advances in chemical biology into comic strips! For more examples, check out the archive on her website.

What's your one piece of advice for people interested in chemistry?

If you are interested in chemistry, you are already very very rare, and I would highly recommend pursuing it. My advice is to start early researching the many careers you can have with a chemistry background so that you can tailor your education to what’s right for you. Think about who you are, what type of personality you have, what makes you happy, and what lifestyle you want to have. Talk to people who do what you think you might want to do. And don’t be deterred by P Chem (physical chemistry). It’s really hard!