Science in cartoons

How do you communicate to people the importance of major scientific discoveries and that science isn't the property of any particular group of individuals or privileged regions? An entertaining strip cartoon illustrating the history of science can succeed where other forms of communication fail.

Fiami is famous in Switzerland as a strip cartoon artist and his work has been translated into several languages. Copies of his Lives of Einstein and Lives of Galileo are on sale in the CERN shop. The Lives of Galileo is the official strip cartoon marking the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and will be the subject of a lecture that Fiami will give in the Globe at 8-30 p.m. on Wednesday, 18 November on the occasion of the Fête de la Science.

You can't just write a cartoon strip on the history of science off the top of your head. Once he has chosen his subject, Fiami compiles documentation from experts, from libraries and from the Internet. “I am always surprised to see that brilliant scientists reply to my questions when I contact them by e-mail or when I ask to meet them. It's fantastic!  The Lives of Galileo took me to the Acatama Desert in Chile to experience one of the purest skies on the planet.”  

The history of science abounds in gripping stories and it is not easy to select the ones to highlight.  The Lives of Galileo is based on six major stages in the history of astronomy: Babylon, Alexandria, Kusumapura on the Ganges, Venice, Greenwich and then, finally, we reach the present day with a class teacher telling her pupils about recent developments in astronomy. The result is an entertaining jaunt through the history of astronomy, during which we discover how our initial perception of the world as flat and motionless gave way to a realization that the world is a constantly turning globe in an infinite universe.

Fiami enjoys revealing the real person (mostly men, but sometimes women as well) beneath the scientist: Who was Galileo? How did he live? What gives rise to a Galileo or an Einstein? Another favourite question is: how does science function? As he himself puts it: “The history of science is first and foremost the history of knowledge-sharing and I try to remind the reader that this sharing and transmission of knowledge are the linchpins of progress in our societies”. A fact CERN is very well aware of.....  

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The cartoon strip The Lives of Galileo will be shown in a special exhibition at the Musée d’Histoire des Sciences in Geneva and in a series of six educational programmes to be broadcast on Télévision Suisse Romande between 21 and 26 December.

by CERN Bulletin