If you see Vinita at work, you’d think she’s a story artist. Or an illustration artist, perhaps. Oh wait, is this some science thing?
The problem is you’d be right as well as wrong.
That’s because Dr Vinita Bharat, PhD, so easily straddles the fields of science and arts.She’s an illustrator for sure. But she’s also a scientist, a postdoctoral researcher in Neuroscience at the Stanford University, USA. And she’s on a mission to simplify science and make it more accessible and fun to learn. She uses art to make science more interesting, more understandable.
“Presenting science in an easy, fun and comic way is what I love doing,” she tells me over email.
Well, if you were holding a PhD from the prestigious International Max Planck Research Neuroscience School, as Vinita is, doodling away illustrations for science is unlikely to be even on your bucket list.
But with Vinita, it’s different. And that’s why she stands out.
Fuzzy logic, you’d say.
Vinita’s art-meets-science journey
After finishing her bachelors in Biochemistry (Hon) from Delhi University, Vinita Bharat was selected at the prestigious International Max Planck Research Neuroscience School (IMPRS Neuroscience) to pursue her MSc and Ph D from the University of Goettingen, Germany. After earning her PhD in 2016, she was selected at the renowned Stanford University, USA, where she’s currently a postdoctoral researcher since November 2017, studying neurodegenerative diseases.
During her research, she was growing a tad uneasy with the kind of dry manner in which science was presented in classrooms, textbooks and educational videos.
“I feel there is a gap that needs to be bridged in communicating science”
For instance, discussing one of the greatest mysteries of all time – explaining the functioning of the human brain – should be exciting, amazing, out-of-the-world stuff. The presentation of such a wonderful topic could do with some fun graphics, she thought.
“Deciphering small bits of how our brain functions, reading about work of others in the field brings great joy to me all the time.” She tells me. And she wanted every learner, every student to share the joy and make studying science absorbing. So she kept thinking about how she could make the presentation of science more peppy, more enjoyable.
It had to be a more engaging visual experience, she told herself. Illustrations that could boil down a complex idea into something simple and kindle an interest to dig deeper…
So picked up her drawing pens…
Scientists are experts at comprehending abstruse, enigmatic and apparently impenetrable concepts that use baffling and dense language (like this sentence). Every time publications like Sketching science, ASAP science, PhD comics or Ipsawonders made her smile, she felt science was something to be celebrated.
If only there could be simple yet appealing illustrations, with a touch of humour…
Vinita wanted to make sure scientific concepts did not remain between scientists only. She began doodling to try and “narrow topics down to a simple drawing”. She started creating videos and then drawings and illustrations to explain science and make it more fun to learn.
The more she created, the more she was convinced science and art needn’t be as different and disjointed as they are often thought to be.Rather than focus exclusively on neuroscience (her own forte), she chose to work with science in general. She has covered subjects as diverse as the Theory of Relativity (her first doodle!), the process of synthesizing proteins in living cells, chemistry, genetics and global warming.
Her target audience includes schoolchildren, college-students, researchers, academics and even non-scientists who wish to understand and visualize what scientists are doing inside labs.Thrilled at the idea of explaining science with simple, easy-to-understand illustrations, she started posting her creations on her Facebook page and other social media platforms.
Her illustrations were later featured in Career Support Group (PhD CSG) for STEM PhDs (a US Non-Profit 501 © 3 organisation) and Taste of science team (Scientists Inc project, a US Non-Profit 501 © 3 organisation). She also exhibited her illustrations at the San Mateo County Taste of Science festival. Jonathan Kolby of Honduras Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Center (HARCC) tweeted his appreciation for Vinita’s illustrations in support of their wildlife conservation work.
FuzzySynapse and the science arts
A website that showcased her illustrations was the next obvious step. That was because a website would give her complete freedom in the way she could structure the presentation of her creations. In April 2017, she launched her website FuzzySynapse. The site features most of her major contributions, her illustrations and videos.
As I dig deeper in the website, I come across some really interesting topics her illustrations have collaborated with. And that gives me a better understanding of how well-designed humour can instantly convey the message.For instance, there’s one post on how scientists can, by analyzing amino acid patterns in a penguin’s tail, make a reasonable estimate on what all places the penguin has traveled to. Vinita’s accompanying “sci-toon” shows two penguins, apparently siblings, wondering their mom will find out where one of them has been to, by studying the tail!
I’m quite impressed so I ask which way is scicomm (Science Communication) heading to.
“I think in coming time, artists are moving toward explaining scientific topics. I want to see it emerging as a common ground for all the artists who share the same idea of connecting science and the world with their art.
And FuzzySynapse? What is the long-term goal, I ask.
“I hope to grow “FuzzySynapse” as a platform where everyone can easily connect to science.” She tells me.
“FuzzySynapse has been collaborating with other groups to help them with science illustrations and comics. I would love to generate funds from my work so that in future more time and effort can be then put for science communication and outreach…. I would love to see FuzzySynapse grow!”
Picture Credits: Vinita Bharat, FuzzySynapse
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