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.
Think 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.
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.
This project was a collaboration between Design Science and the Department of Mathematics, King's College London.
Barbara Bravi, Aleksandra Aloric and Silvia Bartolucci are PhD students in the Disordered Systems group in the Department of Mathematics at King's College London. Their common scientific interests consist of statistical physics approaches to complex systems, i.e. systems composed of many correlated elements. Applications of this type of research range from quantitative biology to materials science to socio-economics.
Barbara studied Theoretical Physics at the University of Bologna before starting her PhD at King's College London in 2012. She was awarded a Marie Curie fellowship as Early Stage Researcher in the European network, NETADIS. Her present research projects focus on mathematical models for dynamics of biological processes, such as metabolism and genetic regulation inside cells, and the role of randomness in these microscopic systems.
Aleksandra graduated from University of Belgrade with a Master’s degree in Physics. She joined the Disordered Systems group as a PhD student in 2012. Her research focuses on collective behaviour in financial and biological systems, such as herding of traders or emergence of new species. Particularly, as most of her work relies on Game Theory, she likes playing games, and learning through games, but also creating games to inspire learning. Before coming to London she worked for Belgrade Science Festival for which she co-authored outreach exhibitions such as ‘Physics Over the Rainbow’ and ‘Physical Music Festival’.
Silvia is a PhD student in the Department of Mathematics at King's College London. She studied Physics for her BSc and Theoretical Physics for her MSc at Sapienza University of Rome. Here she had the opportunity to learn about Statistical Mechanics and Complex Systems. Her current research project focuses on the mathematical modelling of the adaptive immune system using statistical mechanics tools. In particular she models the random interactions between different types of lymphocytes and cells giving rise to immune responses to understand the mechanism regulating our immune system.
Sari Nusier is a second year student of Computer Science and Management at King's College London. He joined the project in order to contribute to building new methods to learn and teach.Anne Odling-Smee, Design Science
Anne Odling-Smee is Director of Design Science, a science communication and education agency aimed at encouraging interaction between design and science.
NETADIS is a Marie Curie Training Network funded by the European Commission (FP7 – Grant 290038) that aims to train a cadre of future research leaders in advanced methods of analysis, inference, control and optimization of network structure and dynamics. It was launched in March 2012 and its main objects include:To maximize the impact of statistical physics approaches across a broad range of application areasTo increase the public awareness of the importance of statistical physics as a research area with significant impact on everyday life