Friday, 1 February 2013

Cover Art

Science is art

At first glance, academic journals may seem to be all seriousness and impersonal facts. But at the very front of every edition lies an artistic outpouring. The cover is the place for scientists to highlight their work and at the same time show off their skills with Photoshop.

Here, researchers have a chance to show off the essence and ingenuity of their fantastic work, or so they hope. Creativity, imagination and communication are core principles of art and design. These same attributes are also vital in science.

Many journal covers have caught my eye over first few years of my fledgling academic career and so here I shall promote some of the best (and worst) examples. The scientists deserve some recognition for what they have produced after hours slaving away, perfecting their art.

The importance of cover art

There is a certain prestige to having your work plastered on the front a shiny little book. However, with the movement to electronic editions with fewer people ever seeing a paper copy and therefore not starting from the cover, have they lost significance? In the last 3 years I can count on one hand how many paper journals I’ve flicked through. It is far more normal now to jump straight to a pdf of the specific article you are searching for. Altmetric investigated this further with discussion in a recent blog post.

Cover Art Science magazineAt The University of Leeds we have a common room that has cover art from the latest publications by Leeds academics posted around the walls. And whether these images have helped gain funding, entice the smartest undergrad or simply aroused the interest of a lost history student, there is a certain something to them that is worth talking about.

Bringing scientific information to life

The cover of Science this month exemplifies the importance of this art. It showed the winning illustration in the 2012 “Science NSF International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge”. A stunning image of a “wiring-diagram”, which represented long-distance neural connections in the brain of a macaque. The outcome was that the visualisation could provide guidance for forming a brain-like network from multiple computer chips.

Science magazine is found at: Science2013, 339, 6119, 481-616

The goal of the competition is nicely stated as,
"to encourage new ways to visualize data ... for conveying scientific principles and ideas across disciplines and to the general public, and for revealing the hidden beauty of structures on scales from nanometres to the cosmos."
Fun, informative and about monkeys (sort of), what more could you want?

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