Create Screensavers to Show off Your Visuals

25 11 2009

It dawned on me that I forgot to include in the book a terrific use for research images: in screensavers. Not only will a screensaver show off your images and video on your own computers, but your audiences can download it to run on their machines. If you have a Windows computer, you can create a simple screensaver on your own machines  using the Personalize feature. Just right click on the desktop, click on Personalize, choose the Screen Saver option, and choose the Photos option for your screensaver. You can then designate which photos to use.

Of course, this method creates only a basic slide show, and you can’t offer it for download. You can produce more elaborate downloadable screensavers using such commercial software as Screensaver Factory, Screensaver Maker, Screentime, Ultra Screen Saver Maker, or iEasy Screensaver Station. There are many more programs out there. Just do a Google search for “screensaver software” or check out CNet’s screensaver listings to find one that fits your needs.

These software packages enable you to create screensavers using images, video, and Flash animations, and even add interactivity. Some of the more advanced software might be complicated to use, however, so you might want to enlist or dragoon a programmer to produce more elaborate screensavers.

Your screensavers can use not only your own images and videos, but those from other sources, with appropriate permission and credit, of course. For example, an astronomy screensaver could use Hubble telescope images of the objects you study; or a structural engineering screensaver could show examples of the bridges that illustrate the principles behind your work. Think visually!

Even simpler than screensavers are wallpaper images. For example, National Geographic offers a huge collection of its elegant images as wallpaper. Like them, you would have to offer your images in two sizes–800×600 pixels for smaller monitors and 1024×768 pixels for medium-sized monitors. National Geographic also offers larger images of entrants in its photo competition as wallpaper.

When creating your screensavers or wallpaper images, don’t forget your communication “strategy of synergy.” That is, include in the images the URL of your lab or center, as well as other information that could induce your audiences to explore your research.

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Glass Math: An Elegant Lesson in Involving Artists in Science

31 08 2008

When I was seeking images for the cover of Explaining Research, I came across this stunning image of mathematical surfaces rendered as glass sculptures. It was a 2006 AAAS Visualization Challenge Winner.

The image didn’t work out for the cover. My sage advisors pointed out that — as stunning as the image was — the cover needed an illustration that portrayed the subject of the book. But this image taught me a great lesson in the value of involving artists in scientific illustration.

The artist, Luc Benard is not a mathematician, but an artist fascinated with transforming mathematical concepts into an engaging visual form. You can see more of Luc’s art in this gallery on the Renderosity Web site, which is an online digital art community.

The basic images for the glass still life were generated by University of California, Irvine mathematician Richard Palais. Palais and his colleagues have created a Virtual Math Museum that includes a marvelous collection of mathematical art by Benard and other artists.

As you explore these sites, consider the images your own research generates, and how an artist might transform them. It might be worth seeking out a graphic artist whose work you admire and exploring the possibility of commissioning him/her to use your image as the basis for a piece of art. It’s a form of communication too few scientists consider, perhaps because they feel that the science-to-art transformation somehow reduces the authority or credibility of the science. But aesthetics can play a powerful role in communicating science, as described by Felice Frankel in this illustrated talk at the New York Academy of Sciences.

And depicting your research in the form of art might well attract important audiences to your work in a way that no photomicrograph, chart or graph ever could.