The leaves are starting to turn in New York and so I have decided to dig out this double page spread that I made last Fall.
This was meant as the opening for a short story about a chlorophyll molecule which, as the season changes, has to abandon the the leaf-farms and embark on a long trip to the tree-castle. I eventually abandoned the project, but in weekends like this I still like the idea of a medieval-fantasy plants biology comic.
This last year I had less and less time to draw as my research project advanced. It’s sad, but I always knew that it would be difficult to combine science and illustration in everyday life. Hopefully the things I’m learning will help me, and many others, to make more and better science comics in the future!
A very welcome exception has been this series of ‘collectable cards’ celebrating women scientists, which I have been developing with Massive Science in the past 2-3 of months. I have made approximately 1 per week and there are now 9 of them, neatly arranged on their Instagram. You can find out more about each one of these pioneering scientists and discover new ones in Our Heroes series on their website: https://massivesci.com/themes/our-heroes/
I made a quick motivational illustration to promote the march for science, happening next month on April 22nd. Feel free to repost it, print it, or use it any other way that may help spread this initiative (let me know if you need it in high resolution). I hope it can inspire some scientists to get out in the streets and stand up against anti-science governments!
After more than a year spent working on it I can finally announce that Cervellopoli, my first children’s book, is now published!
Editoriale Scienza approached me back in 2015, asking me if I was interested in writing an introduction to neuroscience for younger readers. I had no experience in writing children’s books but thanks to their expert guidance (and a lot of help at the colors from my friend Marie De Beaucourt) I can say that I am very happy with the result.
But the final judgement is now up to my new readers, so if you know a little Italian speaker please consider buying the book for them (I hope to have soon an English edition as well). Thanks!
It has been almost 2 months since I returned from my Djerassi residency and my life in NYC couldn’t have been more different from the peaceful month spent on the Santa Cruz mountains. In the sweltering city I have been rushing to finish my next book, starting my new postdoc and meeting new people.
So here a little souvenir from Djerassi: an intricate visual metaphor in which the beautiful California fog (born by the convergence of evaporation and cold winds) becomes a symbol of what happens at the Scientific Delirium Madness – art and science coming together to create the breeding ground for new ideas.
I left the original page at the residency and I’m happy to announce that a limited edition of 10 signed prints will be sold at their fundraising event on October 16. So if you like this and you want to support a great institution get in touch with them!
PS: scattered around the illustration you can also find little nods to my fellow residents. They probably won’t make any sense to anyone who wasn’t there with us but it was my way to honour this time spent together.
From the 10th to the 12th of June I’m going to be at the Mysteryland festival to help out with the Flavor Feast organized by Guerrilla Science. I have been following Guerrilla Science since when I was a PhD back in London and I’m very pleased to see them infiltrate the US with their science events for adults. If you are at the festival come and join me for some flavor experiments!
To celebrate the weekend I drew this fantasy landscape with taste buds and carnivorous plants. I have been drawing a lot of these for my next book and I thought they would just look great in a Guerrilla Science-pink.
UCL asked me once again to draw some illustration for their Sustainability Annual Report. This year they decided to go digital and present their results with an interactive illustration. Check out the final result with all the animated elements (designed by Rory Pickering) or download the PDF version.
I think this hybrid between comics, animations and hypertext has great potential as educational material and I would love to do more along these lines.
The Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt has occupied a special place in my heart since I read Andrea Wulf‘s The Invention of Nature last year. Before then the name Humboldt had a vaguely familiar sound, probably because of the many places and species named after him, but I admit that I knew almost nothing about the fascinating man behind it.
Sure enough, he was another privileged white man, but he was a pretty good one at that. More than 200 years ago he openly spoke against slavery, supported the independence of the American colonies and he had little patience for kings and emperors. He preferred to travel the world, cataloguing species, rather than enjoying the comforts of the court and even when on the verge of bankruptcy he always helped young scientists with the little money he had. His work inspired some of my personal heroes, like Darwin and Haeckel, but also writers like Goethe and Thoreau. And yet, he has been almost completely forgotten outside the scientific community. This is probably for many complex reasons, but as Wulf explains mostly because:
He was one of the last polymaths, and died at a time when scientific disciplines were hardening into tightly fenced and more specialised fields. Consequently his more holistic approach – a scientific method that included art, history, poetry and politics alongside hard data – has fallen out of favour. By the beginning of the twentieth century, there was little room for a man whose knowledge had bridged a vast range of subjects. As scientists crawled into their narrow areas of expertise, dividing and further subdividing, they lost Humboldt’s interdisciplinary methods and his concept of nature as a global force.
In brief, he didn’t make any single revolutionary discovery but he profoundly changed the way we think about nature . While he was alive, Humboldt was an international celebrity and – in my opinion – an excellent example of the role scientists should have in society. When he died (on this day in 1859) the whole world mourned his loss. This is why I have decided to take some time off my other projects and remember him, in my own way.
I want to encourage others to discover Humboldt and I hope that, maybe, his story could inspire some scientists to ‘crawl’ out of their niches and follow his vision. We badly need more like him.
Another medical-themed illustration, this time for CognitionKit, a new joint venture between Cambridge Cognition and Ctrl Group.
The weird symbols on the left were inspired by the cues used in standard memory tests, but I like that they look like some kind of alien pictographic language.
I have a little announcement to make, so please allow me an unusually long post.
When I decided to become a freelance cartoonist in 2013, after finishing my PhD, I never seriously considered returning to academia. I simply didn’t think there would be an institution that would accommodate – even less support – my strange mix of interests. And probably there wasn’t, until Columbia University created the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience (PSSN for short) with the ambitious goal of creating:
a new paradigm for interdisciplinary university-sponsored research to advance understanding of mind, brain, and behavior, and the social foundations and consequences of new neuroscientific findings.
I only discovered the program in September 2015, when I first travelled to New York, and I just couldn’t believe my luck. The PSSN postdoc seemed like the position of my dreams and the next round of submission was only a few months away. I immediately started working on a proposal titled ‘Visual Narratives for Science Communication‘ and thinking of ways to bridge the gap between the apparently distant worlds of science and comics.
The good news is that my proposal was accepted! This means that I will have the chance to fully develop this interdisciplinary project and explore how we can use visual narratives to communicate science. I think the proliferation of science-inspired cartoons, animations and webcomics already proves their great potential, but as a scientist I want to go deeper and try to understand the cognitive mechanisms behind visual narrative communication.
Because I think scientists need new communication tools and I believe comics can help us. My hope is that soon they will not be considered just some ‘funny’ way to talk about science but an essential tool for science education. I hope one day to see a professional community of science cartoonists just like the community of science journalists we have today.
Finally – and this is one of the main reasons for me to write this post – I want to make clear that I can’t do this alone. We need interdisciplinary answers for interdisciplinary problems. Luckily, over the past years, I have already met many brilliant people, from many different fields, willing to support me. But I’m sure there are more out there who can contribute to this new emerging field. So, if you are interested in this project, whether you are a scientist, a journalist, a cartoonist, a designer, or any combination of these and much more… please DO get in touch. I’d love to hear from you, what you think and how we can collaborate.
I have big plans and more news will follow soon but in the meanwhile thank you all for supporting my work. I hope you will join me on this new adventure.