More than pretty pictures

A 3-cm drop of ferrofluid on a glass slide. A slip of yellow paper sits below the slide and a set of seven small circular magnets under the paper affects the form of the drop.

“How the process of making science images and graphics clarifies understanding”

Science photographer Felice Frankel, a research scientist in the Center for Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been “visualizing science” for more than 20 years.Working in collaboration with scientists and engineers, Frankel’s images have been published in more than 200 journal articles, including some appearing in National GeographicNature and Science.

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, Frankel delivered a lecture via Skype where she carefully outlined her methods and guiding philosophy.

Frankel says science photography is an act of discovery for her.

Frankel emphasized the power of science photographs and graphic illustrations to both “explain” and “engage.”

She showed multiple examples of how she carefully manipulated contrast and colour palettes to highlight key features in her photographs, which help better explain the concept.

Frankel gives equal weight to her images’ beauty and their ability to engage the audience.  This has been a defining feature of her work that sets her apart in the world of science photography and continues to put her images on the front page.

She was careful to note the fine line between manipulating an image and misrepresenting the science – pointing out how she never physically changes the image, only edits it to make certain points clearer.


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