Course teaches artists how to make comics for research

Explaining complex science in just the right way is a daily fight for science communicators.

Researchers at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design are trying something new  – pairing scientists with artists to create a comic to bring research to life.

But hundreds of scientists have already signed up for just 15 or so students.

“Science pushes the limits of what we are visualising of our universe,” biologist and visual artist Professor Caroline Hu told Cosmos from the US.

“I really want the students to engage with taking something complex, something that is not already part of a cartoon canon and start making that themselves.”

Hu and her colleagues have launched a call out, looking for scientists to work with the undergraduate students to create a comic of their research.

Immediately hundreds of scientists signed up: “I was not expecting this,” says Hu.

“Comics have this power to both show and tell. And I hope that some of the scientists will walk away from this with a little more insight into how to communicate their own science going forwards.”

However, Hu adds that this influx of scientists highlight that researchers really do want to visually communicate their science, but rarely is this budgeted or organised.

“Everyone appreciates when they see a beautiful piece of science inspired art, when they see comics.

“It’s just not part of the current operations to plan for it, budget for it. Art is work.”

The students will be exposed to a variety of science research and Hu is asking anyone with a science background (including social sciences) to apply.

“There’s going to be a lot of things that the students may be encountering during their project where this is what it looks like straight off microscope or straight off the telescope,” she adds.

“How do we visualise some of those concepts that may not be the most intuitive at times? How do we make those topics visually charismatic?”

This is harder for some types of science than others, but all types of science can still produce layered, appealing and scientifically accurate visuals.

The course, called Science Communication in Comics is new, and is part of a new department at the art school called the Integrative Sciences and Biological Arts Department.

“There might be some other art schools out there with the science departments, but I don’t know of one,” said Hu.

“We wanted to design a class that would give students a taste of real life client work.”

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