Stories from the Universe: Images that Inspire Science

Dinosaurs dominating the Earth, underground landscapes with unusual geological shapes in the interior of our planet, or a massive volcano erupting on a distant moon of Jupiter, are some of the… Images that were engraved in my mind since childhood This forms memories of what stimulated my interest in science.

These evocations awaken an opportunity to address one of the most fruitful and enduring alliances throughout history, that forged between illustration and science.

TRUE Scientific works of art are, for example, drawings made just over two centuries ago, in the framework of the Botanical Expedition In present-day Colombian territory, which, in addition to their great aesthetic value, serve as visual testimonies of the region’s rich biodiversity. Thousands of these plates meticulously capture the details of plants collected during the expedition, providing an invaluable resource for identifying and classifying species.

the Scientific illustration In the West, it dates back to studies of natural history with Aristotle, and has played a crucial role in the preservation of traditional knowledge and cultural heritage, as well as in research, teaching, and scientific communication.

Some notable historical examples include the precise anatomical illustrations by Leonardo da Vinci, which helped advance the scientific study of the human body and medical knowledge, or Drawings by Nicolaus Copernicus or Galileo Galilei, which changed our view of the universe.

Drawing can provide an accurate and detailed representation of objects, organisms and phenomena, to facilitate understanding of complex concepts, and in the best cases even replace theoretical description.

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Many believed that scientific illustrations would disappear with the advent of photography. However, that expectation was not fulfilled. Instead of replacing them, photography and drawing began to complement each other. In general, illustration succeeds in recreating details that photography cannot, and in some cases recreating things we may never be able to photograph, such as landscapes on distant worlds.

Specifically in modern astrophysics, which relies on a combination of direct observations, precise measurements, and data analysis; Visual representation remains essential for communicating complex concepts and scientific discoveries to diverse audiences. From visualizing observational data to creating computational simulations and public publication, illustration remains a powerful tool for exploring and understanding the universe.

but, Scientific illustration not only communicates data, but also inspires dreams and expands the horizons of the possible. This is the case of space exploration and Chesley Bonesteel, one of the artists who combined scientific precision with a dazzling artistic sense, to create images that have inspired generations of scientists, engineers and space enthusiasts.

Other sciences, such as archeology or paleontology, rely on drawing to reconstruct what is missing, and add non-existent information from what is present, thus giving added value to the graphic information.

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In the age of artificial intelligence, scientific illustration is undergoing an unprecedented transformation, thanks to the ability to analyze large sets of data and create accurate and detailed visual representations. From automating electron microscopic images to creating 3D models of molecular structures, Artificial intelligence is pushing the boundaries of scientific imagination like never before. Despite all this, the role of human creativity and aesthetic judgment will remain fundamental to interpreting and contextualizing findings, and continuing to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge.

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Santiago Vargas
PhD in astrophysics. National University Astronomical Observatory

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