Scientists and cartoonists together to spread science

Biologist from USP and cartoonist launch comic strip made from scientific article, while US physicist publishes graphic novel to stimulate talks about science

 22/02/2019 - Publicado há 3 anos  Atualizado: 21/06/2019 as 12:52
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Cycles – Luciano Queiroz & Marco Merlin

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If almost anyone agrees that we should put more science on the public agenda, scientific dissemination – which is the communication of science to the non-specialized audience – has made the most of the new media. Every day, new scientific content made by creators from around the world is shared on platforms like YouTube, social media and podcasts. But new uses of the old media have also been highlighted by the disseminators. In this category, the adoption of the language of comics has good examples here at the University. On Wednesday (20), USP biologist and researcher Luciano Queiroz and cartoonist Marco Merlin launched the comic book Cycles, which turned the results of a scientific article into comics.

The objective of the study that gave origin to the comic book, performed when Luciano Queiroz was still working in an undergraduate research at the Federal University of Goiás (UFG), was to understand how the colonization of streams occurs by aquatic insects. Aquatic insects are not very well known and many of them have not even been “baptized” with popular names. Dragonflies, bedbugs, beetles and mosquitoes are more famous, but are no less ecologically important than the ephemeroptera, trichoptera and plecoptera – some of the characters of the HQ.

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Luciano Queiroz – Photo: Cecília Bastos / USP Images

“We decided to do our experiment in intermittent streams, which dry at a certain time of year and get refilled in the rainy season. This allows us to observe how an empty environment, practically without organism, evolves over time in relation to the species that inhabit it, “says Bruno Spacek, the first author of the article.

Thus, the authors hope that the results of the study will reach more people, showing the importance of insects for the conservation of aquatic environments. “The combination of visual and textual language with scientific content makes it much easier to understand more abstract or technical concepts,” says comic book illustrator Marco Merlin.
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Dragonflies, bedbugs, beetles, mosquitoes and also less “famous” insects contribute to the aquatic ecological balance

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Art, Entertainment… and Science!

Dialogue between two stars, one large and one white dwarf
Big star: Girl, do you know who has died? White dwarf: No, who?
Big star: Betelgeuse! White dwarf: Really!? That star that lived there in Orion?
Big star: Herself. Fulminant explosion. White dwarf: Gee! I’m plasma! (pun: in Portuguese, “pasma” means astonished
White dwarf: What a pitty. She was so young… Big star: Supernova! (pun: in Portuguese, “nova” means young)

Cientirinhas – Marco Merlin /Dragões de Garagem

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In partnership with the Dragões de Garagem project, which produces scientific content on several platforms, Marco Merlin also publishes, since 2016, the Cientirinhas. “People love the format, they share, they make friends and they comment,” says Luciano Queiroz, who is also one of the creators of Dragões de Garagem. “These are comic strips with generally four panels and a joke that is linked to a scientific content, but which the reader identifies as entertainment,” says the biologist, noting that this is a way of disconnecting science from the sometimes traumatizing way it is taught in school, full of tests and memorization methods.

“As ‘Cientirinhas’ proved to be a success, we thought it would be possible to disseminate the results of an article in the same format,” says Luciano Queiroz, currently a PhD candidate at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (ICB) at USP. But as the idea was to deepen the content presented, they chose to create a longer comic strip, following a format popularized by the site Zen Pencils.

Queiroz also tells us that in this comics they sought a more poetic tone to talk about the cycles, using a more emotional communication. “We know people connect through emotion,” says the biologist, explaining the tools chosen to address a theme that by itself could be viewed as unattractive – the life of unknown insects in rivers and lakes.

Comics for Physics

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The Dialogues Clifford Johnson

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In the United States, working with a discipline perhaps even more feared than biology, physicist Clifford Johnson also thinks we should talk more about science – as we do with topics like politics, books, sports or the latest series released on Netflix. And the comics were the way he found to call the public to this debate.

Johnson is the author of “The Dialogues”, in which he invites us to listen to a series of conversations in the form of a graphic novel, written and drawn by him, about “the nature of the universe.” These talks take place in museums, trains and restaurants, and the themes range from culinary science to multiverse and string theory. Starting from the idea that science is a way of asking questions about our environment and making sense of it, everyone goes to science in one way or another in their daily lives. “So let’s talk about it!” Encourages the professor of the University of Southern California.

For Johnson, comics are an ideal platform for talking about physics. He says he never felt compelled to make another type of science book, within the models that people in his area are expected to write, but rather to produce something that would alienate him from this style of ‘lecturer’ author. “A graphic novel is being recognized as a broad format that can include many themes and attract a lot of people, and is gaining a lot of readers. Many science lovers are telling me that they had never read a graphic novel before and my book presented them this language, which they now love.”

Clifford Johnson

He says that working with the graphic arts has also provided some insight into his practice as a scientist, emphasizing how symbols can be “useful and powerful as a way of organizing thoughts to address many areas of research, whether to generate new ideas or to organize new calculations”.

On the other hand, he believes that systematic thinking gained in scientific practice can help the comics creator in aspects such as identifying similarities and underlying structures when studying his own work and that of others. “These are some types of approaches that work in science and have broader applicability. The graphic arts and science have more in common than one can imagine, “he says.

For those who still doubt whether comics are a good way to begin making scientific dissemination, Johnson says it’s possible to start in the field doing it all alone, like him, or in collaboration. But first and most importantly is to have something to say, and then figure out the best way to do that and the audience you want to reach. “That will very much determine the medium chosen. Each has its own strengths, and each has different levels of potential reach and difficulties regarding production. But find your voice first, “he says. This may mean doing smaller projects in a quick and easy way, where you can experiment, like a blog. “On the other hand, you will not have a large audience right away, but that is okay, because you are finding out what you want to say and how to say it. The audience will come later. Nothing is wasted and, as in any field, practice and experimentation are the most important steps”, he points out.

He also defends the more traditional forms of interaction of researchers with the public. “Do not forget things like talking in local museums, schools, organizing a festival, science clubs, scientific cafes, chatting about science in the local pub… Anything that brings people together to get involved with science has its value “It does not have to be grandiose, or include sophisticated media. All of this can enrich culture in many ways.” As someone who does what he preaches, Johnson often devotes a lot of time to talk to non-scientists – and believes that this is part of his job.

The Story of Nildo and Rony

The arms of  Nildo and Rony is a comic book written by Antonio Galves, professor of the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics (IME) of USP and coordinator of Cepid Neuromat, and illustrated by João Magara. The material seeks to guide patients who have suffered a traumatic injury of the brachial plexus, a set of nerves that makes communication between the upper limbs and the brain. The injuries affect many victims of traffic accidents, especially involving motorcycles – more than 80% of the traumas are due to this type of accident.

“Originally, this comic strip was conceived as a guide book. We wanted to be able to tell the patient in a clear and scientifically correct way what is brachial plexus injury, the types of surgery and physiotherapy treatments and publicize the Abraço platform, “explains neuroscientist Claudia Domingues Vargas, a researcher at Cepid Neuromat. Although the initial target audience were the patients and their families, these comics are an engaging way to understand how our body works, and the problems that road traffic accidents cause.
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(Comic strip talks about injury that affects movement and sensitivity in arms)

The paper Successional colonization of temporary streams: An experimental approach using aquatic insects was authored by Bruno Spacek Godoy, Luciano Lopes Queiroz, Sara Lodi, Jhonathan Diego Nascimento de Jesus, Leandro Gonçalves Oliveira and was published in the journal Acta Oecologica. The complete comic strip about the study can be accessed on http://www.lucianoqueiroz.com.br/cycles.

The book with the graphic novel The Dialogues, authored by Clifford Johnson, was released by MIT Presse in February 2019, and can be purchased on Amazon.

More information: e-mail luciano@lucianoqueiroz.com.br, with Luciano Queiroz

 

Luiza Caires

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