Inspiring stories – Doodling for Science
May 13, 2019

Inspiring Stories – Doodling for Science

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Zach Dickeson of the Natural History Museum & Birkbeck, University of London in the UK, tells us how he draws inspiration from the planets!

Figure 1 – Sketch summaries of work presented by @DalyPlanet (left) and @ciara_mcgrathx (right) at the recent National Student Space Conference (@UKSEDS).

As scientists, we are passionate about the work we do and the discoveries being made in our field, but to communicate that excitement to a wider audience is a real challenge. Publications covering new science can be dense, difficult reading even for specialists. To outsiders – especially those with no science background – this is a barrier that keeps many from understanding or engaging with science at all. Social media can be a great way to share the science we love, and including a fun image is a great way to stand out amongst the avalanche of other posts.

I’ve always enjoyed sketching and doodling, but never did much with my random creations. At the weekly space science seminars held at my university I found it helpful to draw summary sketches of the talks to help myself remember the key points. On a whim I began posting some of the summaries. I soon got requests to do summaries for other peoples work, and many of the speakers have requested copies of the sketches for use in their own presentations and outreach. The talk summaries are a bit more shareable than a link to the latest paper and even though the summaries assume some science knowledge they can be a great introduction for someone who may not have found the subject any other way.

Figure 2 – Science comics based on the entry, decent and landing of @NASAInSight on Mars (left), and the asteroid sample collection manoeuvres of @haya2e_jaxa (right).

Science based comics are also a great way to grab the public’s attention and impart a bite sized bit of science in a fun way. There are plenty of good science comics and cartoons out there covering a range of subjects, but I’ve found them to be great for highlighting topical events in space exploration. A smiley face on a satellite or a rover can go a long way to helping someone relate to the excitement of a mission, and it’s easy to sneak in a bit of science. At the very least it may help someone remember a few small details about a mission, and with any luck it will inspire a few people to look for more information on the subject.

Since beginning to draw science comics and talk summaries the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and the online engagement with the comics and sketches has been great considering the small following of this humble doodler. Sharing the science is the goal, and we all benefit from a more scientifically literate and engaged public. So whether you think of yourself as artistic or not, have a go at sketching or doodling some science you’re interested in, or reach out to someone like me and pitch your idea. When it comes to sharing exciting research, a scientist’s perspective may count for more than artistic ability.

Twitter: @ZachDickeson

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of Inspiring Stories and get inspired!