The Power of Infographics to Illuminate Insect Science
By Sandra R. Schachat
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
Infographics have been a mainstay of popular science magazines for years. Prioritizing visual information, such as charts and illustrations, over text, infographics are useful for communicating with a variety of audiences, and you don’t have to be a graphic designer to make one. At ESA’s 2019 Annual Meeting, a new special poster category will focus on infographics and will include a student infographic competition.
By learning to create infographics, entomologists can reach diverse audiences, leverage a fun tool to teach new concepts to our colleagues, and gain communication skills that will serve in the pursuit of more traditional tasks such as creating posters and drafting figures for future publications.
This entomologically-themed infographic about mosquito bites uses art to communicate some difficult concepts. It encourages viewers to understand mosquitoes as living organisms with specialized anatomy and unique interactions with the surrounding environment. The infographic portrays mosquitoes as compelling and complex and puts these tiny, important insects on the center stage by illustrating them in very specific detail that goes beyond just surface level observations. The infographic also illustrates virus particles in disconcertingly beautiful detail, and, as a result, encourages viewers to adapt a more nuanced perspective toward medical entomology.
Of course, you don’t have to be a professional digital artist to make an impactful infographic that encourages viewers to appreciate tiny or overlooked organisms in a new light. Comic-book-style infographics can also be very effective in teaching viewers about tiny, overlooked, and potentially dangerous organisms such as insects and even bacteria:
— Amoeba Sisters (@AmoebaSisters) November 6, 2017
Other infographics are more reminiscent of figures from scientific manuscripts and can be playful and charming or sleek and elegant. For example, this vintage infographic takes an image that many of us are familiar with—the periodic table of the elements—and stretches it out to convey information about the abundance of the different elements.
Decades later, this infographic is still engaging and effective. And these days, with vector illustration software like Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator, and Affinity Designer, there are more options for recasting classic scientific images, such as the periodic table, in a new light:
Alternatively, an infographic can even look like an album cover, a t-shirt design, or a concert poster:
A key aspect of infographics is their capacity to communicate concepts about a general topic rather than study-specific research findings. Because of this, infographics are very different from traditional scientific posters. Infographics lack an abstract and a materials-and-methods section, and they typically convey the sort of overall, fundamental knowledge you’d expect to see in an introduction section of a scientific paper rather than the results. For example, at Entomology 2019, I’ll personally be presenting an infographic illustrating the basics of how geochemists reconstruct atmospheric oxygen levels in deep time—an important but complicated process that will help us to understand how difficult it may have been for prehistoric giant dragonflies to breathe.
Infographics are also a great way for interdisciplinary researchers to explain research methods to the entomological community and to scientific colleagues in other disciplines. Do you integrate anthropology into your medical entomology research? Do you leverage the latest bioinformatics methods to reconstruct insect phylogeny? Do you use databases to help manage museum collections? Infographics are a great opportunity to explain your interdisciplinary methods to your fellow insect scientists.
My favorite zoological infographics, which can provide plenty of inspiration to entomologists, are from the research organization BioDiversidad Marina Yucatán. These infographics convey basic information about under-appreciated animals like sponges and crinoids. If ESA members follow in the footsteps of BioDiversidad Marina Yucatán, we can use infographics to help the public appreciate insects’ beauty and vast diversity and to adopt an integrative approach to the medical, veterinary, and agricultural challenges that insects pose to human wellbeing.
Infographics engage audiences that the entomological community doesn’t usually reach. Infographics can be easily shared on social media, don’t demand a large amount of viewers’ time, and can capture the interest of someone who is apathetic to, afraid of, or disgusted by insects. The theme of Entomology 2019 is “Advocate Entomology!” and infographics follow along with the theme of advocating for ourselves, the animals we study, and the populations we serve with our research.
Additionally, by creating infographics, we can gain important skills ranging from color theory to graphic design to the use of various apps. We can put these skills to use when creating scientific posters, figures for manuscripts, and PowerPoint slides for oral presentations and classes. Although each infographic is targeted to a specific audience, we learn how to communicate more effectively with all audiences. And, last, because an infographic can look like anything from a comic book to a textbook illustration to a concert poster, we’ll never run out of new ways to visualize our passion for entomology.
ESA’s website already has plenty of information about how we can create infographics, and ESA even has a few of its own infographics created as resources for its Science Policy Program (such as the “What is IPM?” infographic atop this post), and I hope this blog post has given you inspiration and motivation to create infographics about your own entomological interests. To learn more, check out this website for more information on what an infographic is and this gallery where you can find all kinds of infographics made by professional designers.
I can remember all kinds of infographics that have taught me about astrophysics, archaeology, and many topics in between. But you don’t see many infographics about insects—and I’m glad that ESA is giving its members an opportunity to change that.
Sandra R. Schachat is a Ph.D. candidate in geology at Stanford University and is a member of the ESA Student Affairs Committee. She earned her master’s degree in entomology at Mississippi State University and her bachelor’s degree in art history and archaeology at the University of Maryland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.