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Washington, D.C.—Five years ago, two scientists in two labs separated by thousands of miles started staying late and working weekends to conduct secret experiments. They didn’t know one another, but neuroscientist Matteo Farinella and computational biologist Jason McDermott were leading the same double lives: scientist and science cartoonist.
For Farinella, comics were always a guilty pleasure, something too silly to combine with his pursuit of scientific knowledge. That all changed when he let his secret identity slip to a colleague who encouraged him to wield his pen in the service of communicating science. He’s since created a variety of comics and illustrations—many on commission—and published Neurocomic, a graphic novel of the human brain that has been translated into nine languages. Farinella himself is now at Columbia University in New York, studying what makes comics effective tools for communicating science.
McDermott - Science - Cartoonist - Doodle - Twitter
McDermott mutated into a science cartoonist after a doodle he’d posted to Twitter struck a chord with fellow scientists. Now, he’s better known as the cartoonist behind @redpenblackpen
than for his work at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. His style, he says, is less narrative and more “biting” than his colleague’s. But his work still aims for the same goal: engaging the public, and fellow scientists, with ideas that might otherwise be too boring—or too difficult—to approach.
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Together, the pair shared their superpowers at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes Science). We caught up with them to discuss how scientists— and science communicators—can unleash their own inner cartoonists. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q - Scientists - Comics
Q: When should scientists think about using comics?
J.M.: Comics are worth considering for anyone looking to reach a broader audience. There are divides...
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