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Can Ants Count? Science Cartoons Answer

Earlier this week, APS hosted a panel of speakers on the topic of communicating science to the public at the annual March Meeting. A cartoonist, artist, and science festival organizer were among the speakers, and each of them has made their own unique contribution to making science more fun and accessible.

The first speaker whom I saw was Todd Rosenberg — also known as "Odd Todd." Ironically, Odd Todd started his career in cartooning after being laid off. Since then, he has started making cartoons covering science for outlets such as NPR. Below, you can see his cartoon made with Robert Krulwich that explains research on ants' ability to count their own steps.

During his talk, Rosenberg said:
The ants cartoon is a perfect demonstration of the scientific method. I think [the cartoons] have other uses than teaching the subject matter itself.

In the same vein of Rosenberg's cartoons, the next speaker, Flash Rosenberg, discussed how she makes live drawings of science. But what does that mean exactly? Take a look at the video below to find out.

At the end of her talk, she was asked to visualize the following question posed by an audience member: How do bubbles grow in nuclear fuels? So she pulled together some creativity and a touch of humor to create her fascinating, albeit not entirely accurate, on-the-spot drawing.

"I'm not trying to do literal illustration," Rosenberg noted. "It's showing it the way it feels to me when I'm understanding it."

Finally, in a slight departure from the first two speakers, John Durant of MIT spoke about science festivals. Science festivals are about reaching new audiences that may not be already engaged in science, Durant said.

For instance, Durant organized one interesting event that combined a ferris wheel, 42 scientists, and unsuspecting festival-goers. Everyone could buy a ticket for the ferris wheel, and one scientist was waiting in each of the cars. For the next seven minutes, each rider got to here a brief summary of the scientist's work.

"It's a way of bouncing people together," Durant said.

But durant also noted that you don't have to start big to make an impact. Among other things, he suggested simply setting up a science booth at a local farmer's market to reach people who weren't necessarily seeking out science.

To find out more about Durant's work at MIT and science festivals, check out the MIT Museum page.

You can find more of Odd Todd's cartoons at his website, and you can find some of Flash Rosenberg's videos on her Vimeo page.


  1. First heard about Odd Todd on America's Test Kitchen. He did some cartoons on proteins, carbohydrates or something. I like his style.


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