Sunday, February 13, 2011

Science Problem

I have assigned a dream project in Word & Image 2: design-slash-illustrate a pictorial display to accompany an explanation of a scientific concept to young people. I say "dream project" because it combines picture-making with serious visual thinking: from my perspective, fun as can be.

As promised, here's an example. This picture accompanies a text in The Question and Answer Book of Everyday Science, crisply and thoughtfully written by Ruth A. Sonneborn with terrific illustrations by Robert J. Lee. (Random House, 1961.) These things are so smart. Agreeable, clear, well-selected strategies for what to show and what to let the text do.

Here’s the copy:

Where does electricity come from?

Electricity for your house comes to you from a big power station. In the power station there is a huge piece of machinery called a generator. And inside the generator is an electromagnet. This is an iron core with wires which coil around it but do not touch it.

In a circle around the magnet–but also not touching it–there are other coils of wire. Power, usually from steam or falling water, makes the electromagnet whirl rapidly inside the coil. And this produces electricity, electric current in the outer circle of wire.

The electric current flows from the generator into cables that run sometimes underground and sometimes high up on poles. They carry the current everywhere it is needed. A special cable brings it into your house. When you flip a light switch or turn on your television set, you bring the electric current into your room.

Note that Lee does not bother with the electromagnet, which would be too much. He goes for a gestalt view of landscape with stuff in it. He chooses falling water as the power source and shows the power lines above ground. Both of which lend themselves to display. He shows the generator and the house as insets. Judicious use of labels, too.

A related note: for geeky informational pictures with a certain je ne sais quois, check out Mondorama 2000. Kooky-great illustrations from French encyclopedias, circa 1970. The headline for this image is Equipement de protection individuel.

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