This month we’re looking at how our hands are involved in how we create, teach and communicate. Today we continue to explore this topic by considering what scientists draw and create with their hands.
In Envisioning Explanations – The Art in Science, professor David C. Gooding discusses how scientists tell visual stories. He distinguishes between static visualizations (i.e., printed images), multimedia images and the types of images visual artists and scientists create in their respective disciplines.
Regarding the latter, Gooding (2004) compares images in the visual arts to images in the sciences. He describes images in the visual arts as being “self-sufficient…carriers of meaning” (Gooding, 2004) and describes images in the sciences as having more than one purpose. He explains that scientific images have many functions. They first serve to convey “a tentative understanding” of an event and then serve as an aid to communicate this event to others (Gooding, 2004).
In his article, which is part of a collection of articles about science illustration, Gooding provides examples of how scientists have translated observations and large amounts of information into hand-drawn images and hand-built models — forms of visualization, he explains, science demands because “science is mostly about processes we cannot experience” (Gooding, 2004).
The examples of visualization he refers to include:
- Michael Faraday’s sketch describing the relationship between electricity, magnetism and motion.
- Re-animating extinct organisms by reconstructing fossils using drawings and the transformed mental imagery of the scientist and artist.
- Constructing visualizations of vascular structures.
- Stacking images to create 3-D models.
- Plotting patterns to build molecules.
- Using diagrams to explain an invisible process.
Through these examples and others, Gooding (2004) brings attention to the art (i.e., patterns, dots, sketches, datasets, etc.) in science while showing how scientists, as science communicators, try to deliver “intellectual understanding” (Gooding, 2004) of an experience through visualization.
While Gooding’s focus is science illustration in general, what he writes about applies also to the study of plants.
If you are interested specifically in how botanists and artists have historically described plants and presented plants to a general audience, consider books about the history of botanical art, such as Martyn Rix’s The Golden Age of Botanical Art and Karin Nickelsen’s superb book about the creation of 18th-century botanical illustrations.
Dr. Gooding’s Envisioning Explanations was published in a special issue of the journal of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews dedicated to the topic of science illustration. Gooding (2004) can be purchased online for $39 or obtained at your local college library.
Also included in this issue of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews is
When the Botanist Can’t Draw, an article about how Linnaeus described plants.
Gooding, David C. 2004. Envisioning explanations – the art in science. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 29(3): 278-294.
Imagery in Scientific Communication