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Telling the Story
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Telling the Story

Credit: Arpingstone
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William.of.malmesbury.arp.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The cathedrals of Europe constructed in medieval times contain many beautiful stained glass windows, true works of art. One of the functions of these windows was to honor famous people of the time (as did this window honoring William of Malmsebury, a famous historian of the twelfth century). Another purpose was to communicate religious concepts and stories to a population that was very illiterate. The pictures in the windows would tell stories that the people could see and understand even though they could not read.

Why It Matters

  • Humans have two major ways of communicating information – either we speak or we draw pictures. Both ways are essential, especially in the sciences. A written description conveys certain specific material and data that another person can see, can review, and can store for future reference. A picture gives an overview of a process or provides structure to information that may be difficult to understand with just use of the language. Pictures are also useful when crossing language barriers.
  • Written communication has a long history. The first known alphabets date back over 4000 years. However, for centuries reading and writing were not available to everyone, just the educated few. The invention of the Gutenberg printing press opened the door for wider access to the printed page. Current information availability is now no longer limited to the printed page. Digital media such as the internet store the world’s literature (good, bad, and indifferent) for ready access.
  • Pictures also communicate information. From the early cave paintings describing hunting trips and war expeditions, graphic means of sharing have abounded. Today we have detailed diagrams of cellular processes, plans for building planes and ships, descriptions of surgical procedures that save countless lives – all this and more can be shared by way of images.
  • Drawing used to be constrained to flat surfaces such as paper or walls. With the rise of computer technology, drawings can now be done in three dimensions. 3D images not only provide more information, they can also be manipulated on a computer and be studied from multiple perspectives. 
  • Credit: Graeme
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/78221993@N07/7005066973/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    This 3D image of a human skull can be rotated and moved by the viewer [Figure2]

     

  • The description ofacid-base neutralization requires both words and pictures in order to be understood completely. The words (chemical symbols and equations) show the rearrangement of the atoms in the process. The graphic (titration curve) illustrates the change in pH as a result of stepwise addition of acid or base. The dynamics of polyprotic acid chemistry are better understood when we see both the equilibrium reactions written out for us and the titration curve with its inflection points that reflect shifts in equilibrium.
  • Watch a video about titration curves here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yirkozUyG74

What Do You Think?

Use the links below to learn more about ways to communicate. Then answer the following questions.

  1.  What is cuneiform writing?
  2.  Who created the first alphabet?
  3.  Who used the first bar chart?
  4.  What three forms of statistical graphs did William Playfair develop?
  5.  What contribution did René Descartes make to graphs?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Arpingstone; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William.of.malmesbury.arp.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Graeme; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/78221993@N07/7005066973/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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