Message in a model:the visual culture of molecular models in science picture books for children

Caldwell, Elizabeth (2017) Message in a model:the visual culture of molecular models in science picture books for children. In: Molecules and Models: Seeing Structures, 2017-11-212017-11-22, Centre for Visual Arts and Culture, Durham University.

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Large format picture books form a major part of school and public library reference collections and are often a child’s first introduction to science (Rawson & McCool, 2014). These books are designed to be visually stimulating as well as informative and brightly coloured images of molecular models are an important device in illustrating subjects such as genetics and medicine for young children. Both textual and visual discourse articulate and embed social and cultural practices and this study explores the messages about science that are conveyed in children’s science books when using images of molecular models. A number of themes occur in the way these images are utilised to illustrate science. Firstly, pictures of molecular models are used to illustrate the discovery narrative of science (see Latour & Woolgar, 1986), exemplified by the frequent use of the photograph of Watson and Crick next to their model of the double helix. Secondly, the ‘constructivist’ narrative of science, where mankind can build solutions to problems (see Meinel, 2004), is often illustrated by the use of pictures of brightly coloured plastic models of small ‘useful’ molecules such as paracetamol. Interestingly, images of molecular models, often computer generated, are also used to illustrate challenges to science, such as unethical practices or commodification. In science picture books for young children, images of molecular models are rarely used to explain scientific concepts but are more often utilised to illustrate social and cultural messages about science.

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Contribution to Conference (Paper)
Journal or Publication Title:
Molecules and Models: Seeing Structures
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Deposited On:
01 Aug 2019 13:40
Last Modified:
19 Sep 2023 03:46