Visualisation research

Visualisation of scientific ideas has a rich history and strong presence in modern science communication. Illustrations and photographs are engaging, and often convey a direct relationship between form and meaning which transcends discipline-specific language and jargon, freeing them from the constraints of jargon that often makes scientific text incomprehensible to non-experts. In some sciences, visualisation of concepts is the only way to convey the necessary information. Throughout a child's education, text is presented alongside pictures in almost all school subjects . Doing so supports learning of the information within the accompanying text. This carries through to later life science education, with one third to a half of modern science textbooks consisting of visualisations of some sort.  Studies relating to student retention of scientific information presented in textual form have found that illustrations foster more active involvement with text, enhance information comprehension,  likely through the provision of a secondary visual route to information acquisition that actively improves recall.


The CCAIRs typology

  • Structured study and discussion requires a clear theoretical framework
  • There's many ways you can think about visualisation in science
This project proposes the CCAIRS (Content, Context, Abstraction, Intended audience, Rhetorical intention, and Surface features) typology.

A generic framework that can meaningfully describe all types of scientific visualisations in a quantifiable manner could prove invaluable coherence to research about scientific visualisation. Though description of existing visualisations can inform the effective design of new ones, the aim here is not to provide principles solely aimed at guiding effective visualisation development. The goal is to foster consistent and meaningful description, categorisation, and discussion of all forms of scientific visualisation, including figures, graphs, and illustrations. To this end, the CCAIRS (Content, Context, Abstraction, Intended audience, Rhetorical intention, and Surface features) typology is proposed. This synthesis of art theory, image categorisation schemes, and research from the science communication, psychology, teaching, human-computer interface design and advertising literature is intended to be descriptive, practical tool for guiding science visualisation enquiry. Though each facet of the typology will be introduced in isolation, it is intended to be applied as a whole. 
Click here to read the talk slides for Walsh, E. (2015) Watching our figures: How mathematical psychology visualizes cognitive modelling, and how it could improve Talk Australasian Mathematical Psychology Meeting (Shoal Bay, Australia, 11th-13th February)

A comic book guide to...Efficacy of comic-book style illustrations in conveying scientific information

Working with W. Grant

  • Comic or manga guides to scientific topics, such as physics or chemistry, are widespread and popular.
  • There's limited research about what might make these guides popular

This project seeks to examine whether a comic book style format for visualization is indeed an effective learning tool.

Mapping the Manubrium to Memory: Visualisation style and anatomical learning


Visualisations are vital for teaching anatomy. This study aimed to examine the optimum visualisation style to enhance recall of anatomical features. We explored how different visualisation styles may impact on anatomical learning by manipulating congruence (whether the mode used for teaching matched the testing phase), and aspects of the visualisation’s appearance, including dimensionality (two dimensional or three dimensional), presence or absence of distracting information, and angle of visualisation.

Prose, panels and people: The impact of comic presentation style on procedural information learning


This study explored the efficacy of using a comic book format to teach procedural and cyclical scientific information to members of the general public. 

Not just a pretty picture: Scientific fact visualisation styles, preferences, confidence and recall


This study aimed to explore the role of stylisation in visual accompaniment of scientific information presentation to an adult audience. The focus was on whether participants had a consistent preference for a particular visualisation style, and which styles were most effective in encouraging short term rote learning.