Beautiful Science @ The British Library

At school, no matter how hard I tried (and I really did – afterschool chemistry lessons and everything!), Maths and Science were never really ‘my thing’ – algebra and covalent bonds, I just couldn’t get my head around them. Despite my struggles, I somehow have a lot of love for collecting, analysing (which is usually associated with Maths and Science? I make no sense) and using data to communicate.

In my 2nd year of Uni, we were set a data visualisation brief in which we needed to collect data, analyse it and communicate it. Turns out that I produced a quite successful (depending on how you measure success I guess) piece based on my blogging habits and triangles – remember that?

In recent years data visualisation has started to gain a lot of attention and praise (mainly thanks to David McCandless if you ask me). Why use a boring pie/bar chart when you can make data interactive, eye catching and fun because not everyone is good with numbers (as I know very well). On my way to work onr morning I was reading TimeOut magazine when I came across a data exhibition at the British Library. Ben (who is a data vis enthusiast) and I visited at the weekend:

Beautiful Science is an exhibition showcasing the evolution of data visualisation through scientific data including the spread of diseases, similarities between animals and humans and changing tidal patterns.

Ben helped 2 ladies make sense of Martin Krzywinski’s, Circles of Life.

William Farr, Report on the Mortality of Cholera in England 1848-49. Also on the topic of cholera, I found John Snow’s plotting of the 1854 London cholera outbreak on Broad Street (now Broadwick Street, Soho) really interesting. To most, it’s not pretty and is just a map with bar charts but it proved vital in locating the source of the infection and preventing more deaths. I think I’m correct in saying that this was before they had figured out the link between cholera and water, so by just recording this information Snow was able to save lives. It seems simple to us in the modern day but at the time it was a big break through owed to data visualisation! (Watch this video for more information if you’re interested – can you tell I was genuinely really amazed with this!?)

So many lovely examples of how design and data working together can produce beautiful results – data doesn’t have to be mind-numbing!

The exhibition is held in the Folio Gallery in the British Library (just up the road from Kings Cross) and is running until 26th May so you’ve got plenty of time to go and take a look yourself. To plan your visit, see the British Library website for a map and opening times. Let me know if you visit!

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