Inking Science

A few months ago, my friend Vale asked me to collaborate with her on a project. I remember it going something along the lines of:*

Vale: “So, I’m working on this project and was wondering if you wanted to be part of it.”

Me: “Yeah, of course.”

Vale: …

Me: “Wait, what is the project?”

Say “yes” and ask questions later

Though probably not valid for every situation, I knew that in this case, I would be fine to say yes before knowing what I’d said yes to. If you’ve read any of my other stuff, you know that I’ve done various “scicomm”** projects like developing a “Build a LEGO-microscope” workshop and organizing a lecture series called “The Science of SciFi”. These were both in collaboration with Vale (and occasionally other people). She’s also the one who got me into Bright Club!

It seems that we work well together. And working together on a new project (without even knowing what it was), sounded like a lot of fun.


By now, I (obviously) know what the project is. It all started with #inktober, an art challenge that challenges illustrators to draw something using the medium of ink every day for a whole month (can you guess which?). Vale took up that challenge, and made it even more of a challenge by deciding to bundle her illustrations in a book.

Every drawing is based on a scientist*** that she considers a personal inspiration and is linked to a word from the prompt list. She’d post the result with a short explanation of why she chose that scientist for that prompt. Sometimes they were pretty obvious (at least to me, of course “stretch” is about D’Arcy Thompson!), some rather funny.

Image result for inktober prompt list 2018
Official #inktober prompt list.

And then I come in.

Inspired by her drawing, I write a short text to go along with it. Sometimes it’s an anecdote. Sometimes it’s a quote. Sometimes it’s a short story about the scientist’s life. I try to make it as informative, engaging, unique and fun as I can.

… and then we have a book

Well, almost. We have the drawings. And we have the stories. And now we have a Kickstarter campaign to actually turn it into a book!

Sketch of what the book is going to look like.

It’s kind of awkward for me to sit here and write about a book I’m involved in, trying to get it made, aka trying to get the campaign funded. Like really, really awkward. So I’ll only do it once****:

Every little helps. Pledging helps, obviously, but spreading the word does too. If you like science, engineering, and math; and if you like amazing art; and if you like stories (and if maybe you also like us)… please share our project and help us make this book a reality!

Both Vale and I have found inspiration in these scientists, and we have found inspiration working on this book together. Hopefully, it will inspire you too.

*end of sappy book promo – I’ll be back next week with the usual science, nerdiness and hopefully some “Eureka!”s*

Just to remind you ;), you can find the Kickstarter page here:

*Severely paraphrasing. This was months ago. I might have also dreamt it but on the other hand, this project is happening so I guess that means the conversation happened too.

** or “science communication”, which is the umbrella term I use for STEM-related outreach, workshops, talks, and other similar activities.

*** in the broad sense of the word. They could be mathematicians, or engineers, or inventors. Creative STEM-people if you will.

**** on this blog, to be clear. My other social media channels will be swamped! Like, I actually really care about this project and am super excited and want to see it happen!

All of the art work shown in this post is by Valentina, and within the #inkingscience project.

Not just your usual conference (100 years, Part VIII)

Spotted in the Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History (St. Andrews)

Last weekend, I attended the Centenary conference commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the publication of On Growth And Form by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. You might have heard me mention this book and its centenary at some point?

It was not just your usual conference. While most conferences centre around a certain field or topic, this one explored the influence of D’Arcy and his book on many different fields It was the most interesting mix of people and topics at any meeting I’ve been at, it succeeded in bringing scientists, mathematicians, computer scientists, historians, artists, architects, musicians and knitters in the same room.

Also, the sessions were not organised topically, but pretty much random, which meant that even if you were just interested in a few talks (on paper), you ended up hearing the wide variety of topics that have something to do with D’Arcy. Personally, I thought this was a very clever choice of the organisers (kudos to them), and I enjoyed hearing about art, architecture, history, and yes, knitting, instead of boring ol’ science for a change.


I also feel like I made some type of personal achievement. I was accepted to give a talk on the Physics of Cancer, which you might remember as the topic of my two FameLab contributions. For each of these, I had written a little song. So, in a crazy phase of over-confidence, I decided to incorporate these songs into my talk. And, why not, I also incorporated Star Wars references, weird cartoon cell drawings and pretty dodgy doodles I had drawn myself.

The response was amazing. I’ve given talks at conferences before but never have I received such positive feedback. Not only because they found the songs entertaining (I can assure you no-one fell asleep during my presentation) but I was also complimented on the clarity and accessibility of my talk (the very mixed audience, remember) and my optimistic approach to a “heavy” topic. If possible, I will from now on take this approach for every talk.


Finally, I have a new favourite D’Arcy quote (it’s quite convenient to have three days full of inspirational quotes to muse about):

“(…) things are interesting only in so far as they relate to themselves to other things; only then you can put two and two together and tell stories about them.”

Closely followed by this one, actually:

“Facts are pointless unless they illustrate greater principles.”

(The comics snippets and the second quote are from the graphic novel “Transformations“.)