A Glowing Review for Art in Science

Lauren Redniss’ Radioactive is one of the most unique scientific texts that I have ever read. The story follows Marie Curie, her husband Pierre, and various other related scientists in the discovery of Polonium and Radium, but the story, though extremely interesting and inspiring, is not what makes this text so distinctive. On almost every page of the book is an illustration that depicts that part of the story. No other informational text that I have read has included so much artistry, and it made a huge difference in the reading experience.

As an audience member, reading Radioactive for the first time, I found myself following along with the story very easily, and relating to the characters. Though the beginning of the story outlines a lot of personal life experiences of the Curie’s, such as how they met, their wedding, and the birth of their children, the latter chapters go more into depth of their scientific discoveries. The ease of understanding and following along with the story never alters, however. The drawings in the text bring the characters to life, but also artistically represent their experiences and scientific discoveries which allow the audience to better understand what they are discussing, and enjoy the reading, even though it is actually factual in nature.

In the Art as a Way of Knowing Conference report, Mcdougall, Bevin, and Semper discuss how the integration of art into science is beneficial in many ways, and Redniss’ Radioactive is a prime example of intertwining the two. In the report they discuss how art reaches a more variety of audiences, and allows science to be better understood and represented. They looked at how “the arts permeate intellectual and cultural life and serve to generate new art/science forums for questioning, redefining, and offering new visions of the relationship between science and society” (Art as a Way of Knowing). When these two fields collide, they create something that is enjoyable to look at, and something that more people want to read. Without the added art component, this exact text could be considered confusing or boring, simply because it is related to the intellectual world of science, which is not always understood or enjoyed by the general public.

A part of Radioactive where I felt the art component really hit home for me, was during the discussion of the atomic bomb. There was an illustrated map of the hypocenter and destruction zone, photos of a woman who had actually experienced the Hiroshima bombing, and drawings representing what they remembered seeing and experiencing. Reading about the bombing in Hiroshima is always difficult, but the way that this text displays it artistically, really represents what those people went through in a not graphic, but still very accurate way. The audience gets captured by the images that memorably and accurately represent the story of these people, and the scientists that it discusses as well, without being boring at all. It allows for an entirely new group of people to read scientific information, and to learn, but in a more visual and easy to understand way.

Integrating art and science together is all around something that should be so much more often. By making scientific texts more interesting and easy to understand, we open the door for a more educated populace, and people who are actually interested in learning. We can also use art to accurately portray the stories of people, give visuals to experiences, and connect with and relate to scientists and their discoveries. Radioactive is very unique now in its use of art, but I hope that this style is something that becomes more normal and used, as it really is an effective way of communicating scientific ideas, discoveries, and stories.

Fall 2020 LB 492 011