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Random Walks

How can graphic design help in the teaching of complex ideas? In particular, how can we present seemingly random biological variability in a way that is visually appealing and will engage younger audiences, so as to stimulate their interest in scientific research?

Random walks is a playful and interactive learning tool to help a young audience understand scientific ideas through visualization.

randomwalks6Think about the trace left behind a drunkard on his way back home after partying: how could it be described mathematically? A so called 'random walk' provides the answer: the randomness in his walk can be seen in the casual choice of possible directions and of the length of his steps. Random walks are general processes that can be characterised in statistical terms. Although one cannot specify the destiny of a particular walk, one can analyse the average behaviour of a large number of steps. Random walks is an example of how large scale regularity can emerge out of random motions on a small scale.

Molecular reactions inside cells, underlying organism growth and metabolism, are subject to these kind of fluctuations, which in turn can originate a variety of visible patterns, such as phenotypes. Therefore, Random walks provides a tool to model and interpret biological variability.  

The project team used the theory of 'random walks' to design an educational game as an interactive, playful solution to engage a young audiences and trigger their curiosity about current scientific research. The creative process aimed to explore how the visual support of graphics can help non-specialists understand intriguing but complex concepts. 

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The team developed a mobile phone game. The player is accompanied through the two levels of the educational game by a strange couple, a drunk pirate and his parrot, whose funny shapes come from the creative minds of Design Science. The player is made to compete against randomness in an attempt to lead the drunk pirate to his ship, where he will enter the parrot's cells and experiment with different colouration patterns. At each step, the player learns a simple scientific explanation of what they see. 

More information about the app can be found here.

The project was supported by King’s as part of the 2014 Collaborative Innovation Scheme for Early Career Researchers.  It was designed by Barbara Bravi, Aleksandra Aloric and Silvia Bartolucci, Department of Mathematics, in collaboration with Sari Nusier, Department of Informatics, Design Science and NETADIS.

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