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History of the Enlightenment in Science

From Nicolaus Copernicus’s heliocentric theory to a virus SARS-CoV-2 Caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic, Science Illustration Book. A Visual History of Knowledge from the Fifteenth Century to Today (Taschen, 2022) – with texts in English, Spanish and Italian – takes a journey through the history of scientific illustration, a tool that has accompanied great achievements in science.

Anna Escardo, the author of this book, also a mechanical engineer and a graduate in literary theory, explores the work of 700 scientists and provides 300 illustrations, including such as that of a flea, which was published in Micrographia (1665). , by Robert Hook and that it was the first best-selling science book; The first detailed drawing of the Moon, made by Galileo Galilei in 1610, and anatomical diagrams such as those in Leonardo Da Vinci And those Christian Wilhelm BraunPioneered the use of frozen bodies to study anatomy.

Scientific illustration has evolved, as has knowledge, and today the main images we see in science news tend to be computer generated. Despite the complexity of the technology, working by hand continues over time, Escardó says Globalism.

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“Surprisingly, to this day with 3D scanners, long-range and wide-angle photography, and ultrasound, hand-drawn scientific illustration is still the most accurate. For example, how do you take pictures of a dinosaur? Drawing allows you to illustrative by imagining exactly what the scientist wants to communicate to his peers and the public. This is why hand-drawn drawing has always had an edge, even with digital pens and tablets,” states the book’s author.

In addition, the author explains that scientific illustration is not necessarily related to full-color graphics, because it also includes charts, graphs, and tables, which can illustrate mathematical, physical, and chemical concepts. For example, scientific illustrations contain images such as Marie Curie’s notes, dating from 1893, on the degree of absorption of aluminum, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide; A pencil drawing of the passage of light through an object, which he made himself Albert Einstein in 1916, as well as a drawing of a mold inhibition, on a petri dish, made by the microbiologist and innovator of penicillin, Alexander Fleming, in 1928.

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Although hand-drawn drawing is still relevant in the scientific field, at what point do they stop making maps in the Renaissance style, anatomical charts with bodies placed on pedestals as if they were statues and angels protecting the titles of these diagrams? Now everything is simple, simple and functional. Could we have lost our taste or do scientists have less time?

Although during the Renaissance Scientific illustration It was almost like a work of art, Escardo recalls that these images are a communicative tool and explains that in order to achieve effective communication of science it is necessary to compose a clear and direct image, so that aesthetics, if any, go into the background. This idea of ​​simplicity began in the 19th century and continues to this day.

However, he also considers time to have been a factor in the loss of embellishments: “A scholar must be up-to-date, and he has no time for his illustrations for detail. More than two million articles a year alone are published each year.”

The science celebrity also takes the opportunity to point out that time is essential to the development of science and that a culture of immediacy, imposed by the pace of technology and the Internet, has become an issue in science communication.


Marie Curie’s Observations on Natural Radioactivity, 1893. Photo: French National Library

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Diagram by Christian Wilhelm Braun, dated 1877. Photo: Courtesy of the US National Library of Medicine

The importance of scientific publishing

science illustration. The visual history of knowledge from the fifteenth century to today was accomplished in record time. Five years ago, Escardo called an editor Taschen, Julius Wiedemann, to hold a conference; He then suggested that she write this book, but only gave her a week to turn in her project.

“I was like a runaway horse, I didn’t know where to go or where to start,” the author recalls.

Once approved, Escardo brainstormed the most important scientific discoveries, the contributions of Nobel Prize winners and Nobel laureates. Fields Medal (Nobel Prize in Mathematics) and scientific developments that arose from misfortunes such as wars, disasters and epidemics. Over a period of eight to nine months, he compiled information and illustrations.

However, the epidemic COVID-19 The book has been discontinued. So Escardó had the time and used it to rethink the content. He realized that he did not include enough scientific input from the eastern countries.

It is true that many times we turn only to see the West, when The Orient is also a major component of science. (…) Many Asian scientists were pioneers, for example, the first to use anesthesia was a Japanese scientist, ”notes Escardo.

“The pandemic changed the book. We added a picture of the virus SARS-CoV-2, But we don’t include the vaccine guru because I always thought science needed its age and today we’re in a culture that we want everything in now.”

Spreading science hastily was a problem that gained notoriety in the pandemic. Escardo points out that in those months many scientific notes written by non-specialists were published, which led to mishandling of information and fake news.

I think with the pandemic we have seen that the media should give more priority to the science celebrity. Some scientific articles during the pandemic weren’t peer-reviewed and the media was already running stories about it. You have to be careful, because if you don’t create false hopes, so does fake news. I insist that time matters, ”emphasizes the author.

In addition to properly communicating information, Escardo notes that the scientific publication number is important because it makes knowledge accessible. “Scientific knowledge even today is still limited to the elite. That is why I think the following Scientific revolutionAs it was for the Copernicans or the Newtonians, this must be the democratization of scientific publishing or we will continue the same,” he concludes.

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The first drawing of the lunar tapestry, made by Galileo Galilei, after 60 attempts, in 1610. Photo: Courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, D.C.

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Structure of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease. Image: Rawpixel

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Japanese surgeon Hanaoka Seishi was the first to undergo general anesthesia in 1804. Photo: Courtesy of the US National Library of Medicine

“To this day, with 3D scans, wide-angle images, and ultrasounds, hand-drawn scientific illustration remains the most accurate.”

Ana Escardo, author of the book

the book
Scientific Illustration (Taschen, 2022) contains 300 illustrations, ranging from the fifteenth century to the present, and texts in Spanish.

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