Illustrating the invisible

I often find it amusing how things that don’t have a fixed image are illustrated by graphic designers/artists for magazines and newspapers. Examples are emotions, university subjects or new technologies. A lot of these images are fairly what we expect them to look like: a woman cringing in pain and putting a hand on her forehead in headache tablet adverts, a image of the Earth symbolising ‘geography’, some weird space robots signifying ‘nanotechnology’. Wait a moment: weird space robots signifying ‘nanotechnology’? How do they get from these to space robots? Obviously there is more than just a little projection going on.

Source: nearing zero

Bioengineering gets a similar absurd treatment with ripe tomatoes getting injections from scarily-clad ‘scientists’ and, as we expect, lots of gloves, gasmasks, goggles, test tubes, syringes and ‘code’/double helix imagery. A surprise was the astronaut with the giant egg though… I bet the artist had this idea over continental breakfast! Talking of weird imagery within the weird: sometimes people are trying to break the mould by using different kinds of images (whatever different means to them). For instance, I remember one Open University prospectus for Geography sporting the drawing of a head with a ‘brain map’ illustrating our theorising about the world. Has anyone seen any examples for things like love, English or nanotechnology? :D

Other good examples of the invisible are quantum mechanics, energy and mathematical equations. What I need to mention in this context are the marvellously mad craft past-times of mathematicians, as seen in the news under ‘Crocheting Chaos’.

As further research brought to light, this is only the tip of the iceberg of wacky scientifically motivated craft activities. There is the home of mathematical knitting if you feel like knitting ‘moebius scarfs’, klein bottles or hyperbolic planes, but you can also make klein bottle handbags, pascal triangle needlepoint and a selection of stuffed, beaded, quilted goodies. So you don’t need to be Kenneth Snelson or a Benjamin Storch, you can just go for it from your comfy chair. Never has mathematics been so tangible!

By the way, my find of the day regarding ‘invisible things’ is the following site…


4 thoughts on “Illustrating the invisible

  1. this is great! I especially loved the cartoon … when i have more time next week, i will come back with more thoughts. i think it would be great to share some dialogues around what you’ve written and to swap some of our online findings!

    mentioning that, have you come across victor habbick’s stuff? he does mostly science fictional cgi, but his nanobot depictions are quite elaborate:


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