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Science Meets Zentangle®

I love the places and projects my ability to “Zentangle®” has afforded me. This recent work-related opportunity is most unique and worth sharing broadly: a graphic with Zentangle® patterns illustrating a scientific article.

If you are familiar with my bio, you’ll know that I work full time at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado. My job title is Technical Communications Specialist. That’s fancy federal jargon for someone who does many things: technical editing and science writing; graphic layout and design of reports, brochures, outreach materials, etc.; and general education and outreach about the nature of our multi-faceted science, its scope, and its effect on your life. As part of my job, I work with researchers in NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory to create figures for peer-reviewed articles they are writing for science journals such as Science, Nature, Journal of Geophysical Research, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, to name just a few.

On February 18, the European journal called Current Climate Change Reports (from Springer publishers) published an article,

Dr. Feingold (Graham) works at NOAA Boulder in the Chemical Sciences Division that I serve. Months ago, Graham asked if I could help him create a figure to illustrate different philosophical approaches to studying complex systems; namely, the Darwinian and Newtonian approaches for a paper he and his colleague from Germany (Johannes) were writing. “Darwin,”, he explained, “emphasizes a detailed study of individual system components, whereas Newton places emphasis on the big picture view or system-wide behavior.” In their article, Johannes and Graham urge a balance in these approaches to maximize understanding of the multidisciplinary nature of the climate system as it relates to their atmospheric science.

I loved the task as soon as I heard Graham’s ideas on how he envisioned such a concept. He handed me a sketch on a paper placemat that he had scribbled while enjoying a beer from a local microbrewery. I grasped the idea quickly, and immediately, the art of Zentangle® came to mind. What a perfect medium to show complexity with an intricate pattern that morphs into the essence of that pattern to depict a system-wide or simplified view. I thought of our “step-out” concept for teaching Zentangle® patterns; but in reverse.

That conversation was just the start to many weeks of iterations before the final product took form. We had phone calls and exchanged emails with Johannes in Germany, and I endured many of the painful graphics program challenges one typically encounters when working up such a figure. But it was so worthwhile!

I expressed my desire to Graham to do more such creative graphics. I was lucky he and Johannes were open to such a “funky” idea at all, with a final product that’s not typical of current science literature. In fact, when I asked Graham to keep those assignments coming, he said, “Ahhh, yes, science serving art!”

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