From sketches on the back of napkins to detailed scientific illustrations, drawing has long been a powerful tool for scientists to communicate their research and ideas. However, many scientists may not realise or apply the full potential of drawing in their scientific endeavour.
In this article, we will explore the importance of drawing in science and the insights gained from the talk of Ipsa Jain, Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru and Carsten Janke, Institut Curie, France at 15th Young Investigators’ Meeting (YIM 2023), including looking at some drawings of the scientists who participated.
Envision a world that lacked cameras, printers, or digital images — if you wished to depict something visually, you had to illustrate it yourself. Regrettably, over time, role of drawing has dwindled in modern-day scientific enterprise.
Snippets from Ipsa’s talk at YIM 2023
Jain gave a talk on ‘Drawing Your Science’ at our 15th Young Investigators’ Meeting (YIM 2023) that challenged scientists to put their drawing skills to the test.
At a live interaction, Jain illuminated how drawing represents much more than merely putting pencil to paper. Drawing, she explained, is the cornerstone of ideation, can serve as the foundation for hypothesis and theory, a critical mechanism to draw inferences, and a powerful mode to build concepts.
She underscored how visual representations, facilitated by drawing, are essential for exploring new relationships, testing ideas, and elaborating knowledge. The beauty and power of drawing is that it is an indispensable tool for the scientific community — a tool that continues to unlock new discoveries and push the boundaries of human understanding.
She took the audience on a journey through a rough sketch of an in situ devcie (by Roman Stocker and Justin Seymour) to quantify bacterial behaviour in natural ocean environments. This ground-breaking idea emerged during Justin’s last day at Roman’s MIT lab, where the two scientists had spent the previous three years assaying bacterial chemotactic behaviour in the lab using microfluidic devices.
Roman and Justin drew the first outline of the‘in-situ chemotaxis assay (ISCA)’ on a napkin during a final lunchtime meeting. The napkin that held the first scribbles of the ‘in-situ chemotaxis assay (ISCA) is a testament to the power of drawing as a catalyst for imagination and the origin of innovation.
Drawing is the embodiment of ideation, where the seed of a great idea takes root and begins to grow into a tangible reality.
A drawing challenge for YIM 2023 participants
Jain challenged scientists in the audience to work in groups to create visual representations of their research areas. The results were mind-blowing!
Some in attendance took to sketching their own lab logos, while others shared their laboratory research with simple drawings that served to breakdown complex research problems.
Let’s take a look at some of the drawings by researchers:
Suman Pahal: “Say goodbye to painful vaccine injections- that’s what my drawing represents! Microneedles are the future of painless vaccine delivery. These tiny needles are strong enough to pass through the skin without reaching nerve endings, making vaccination a breeze. As a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine, I’m working to make microneedle technology a reality for painless and effective disease management.”
Jogender Singh: “When organisms face stressful environmental conditions, they must adapt to the changing environment to survive; otherwise, they will perish. The ability to adapt, in fact, is the basis for the existence of life. In our laboratory, we are involved in characterising mechanisms of adaptation to different stress forms.”
Himanshu Sharma: “Microsporidia are parasites that can infect humans, insects, and most animals. As depicted in the drawing, they invade the cells of their host and take over their energy-making machinery called mitochondria, stealing energy and nutrients to live. In our laboratory, we study how microsporidia invade and sustain themselves inside host cells.”
Chandana Basu: “At Ipsa’s activity session, I finally created the perfect logo for our lab group, GenoPheno! Our research focuses on the fascinating topic of human diversity and the genetics behind it. We’re interested in understanding the inter-individual variation that exists and how it relates to past adaptation, as well as using this knowledge to improve public health.”
Bhuvan Pathak: “I have captioned my drawing as‘Plant to Plate– engineering the plants to be smart, like a smartphone’. Just like mobile phones have various applications, it is possible to engineer plants with the traits that could lead to enhanced productivity in a small area of land.”
The canvas mural at YIM 2023
In the spirit of discussing science-art at YIM 2023, we also wanted to explore the relationship that scientists have with their work and the laboratory beyond the scientific aspect. Scientists, like all human beings, have their idiosyncrasies, and the laboratory holds a deeper meaning for them.
To document this relationship, Jain set up a canvas mural at YIM 2023 and invited researchers to express their thoughts through sketches, doodles, drawings, and paintings in response to certain prompts. This project aimed to shed light on the personal and creative side of scientists and their unique perspectives on their workspaces.
Storytelling with art in Carsten Janke’s talk
During his talk titled,“From brains to yeast and back again — my scientific journey” Carsten Janke, Institut Curie, France, talked about the art of storytelling that could be used to effectively communicate scientific concepts to the public. Drawing on his own experiences, he emphasised the power of art to connect complex scientific ideas in a relatable, engaging way and showcased some of his collaborative work with EPSAA art students. Janke’s commitment to making science accessible to everyone was evident when he distributed copies of‘Globule,’ a graphic book that he worked on in collaboration with a science artist, that chronicles the history of dendritic cells and their critical role in immune mechanisms and vaccination processes.
By breaking down the barriers between science and art, both Jain and Janke inspired a broader appreciation for the role of drawing in science, highlighting it as a tool to conceptualise and communicate scientific ideas.