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How are mathematical concepts translated into illustrations

  1. Feb 1, 2016 #1
    How does physicist translate their scientific concept into an image or illustration to make it comprehensible and visual. Does the physicist make use of computer-software to produce this illustrations? Who made the first very well-known illustration of gravity that causes space-time to curve around massive objects? Where can I find more information about the creators of animations or illustrations. How does physicist explain this to illustrators so they can make the theory into an image or animation?
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  3. Feb 1, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Welcome to PF;
    I'll do my best but the answers are pretty much the same as for anyone...
    The same way any picture is made - you start with an idea of what you want to illustrate and then you draw it. If it doesn't work, you listen to the objections and draw a new picture until you get one that does work.

    These days - yes. Not always though ... lecturers often free-hand draw pictures in class. I think that the vast majority of educational diagrams are drawn free-hand on the spur of the moment.

    The skill to draw 3D perspective pictures and educational diagrams is taught to science students at secondary level but they are exposed to such images from much earlier so they already have an idea of what sort of thing works. Drawings, in physics, are part of the language - the skills are learned like any language skill: by doing.

    Probably the person who first published the rubber-sheet model. Don't know - don't really care. This is common in sciences, we tend not to put a lot of stock in the diagrams as artworks.
    You could ask what is the oldest image of this model that is readily called to mind and get a different answer from different people. For me it was the movie Black Hole.
    I wonder what diagrams Einstein used in the GR paper... it's available online, you could look.

    In the credits for the image or the animation.
    A history of physics diagrams and imagery would make a nice thesis topic I guess ... check with a history or art department.

    The same way anyone who wants something drawn does ... we make a bit of a sketch and wave our arms about a lot. The illustrator asks questions and makes sketches back and we pick the ones that are closest and suggest changes and so on until it is good enough for publication. It helps that we are taught, and encouraged, to draw from early on. There is a technical phrase for this sort of to-and-fro between two people, it's called "having a conversation". When we want someone to do some work for us we have a conversation with them until we are satisfied that they understand what is required of them.
  4. Feb 1, 2016 #3


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    Who made the first very well-known illustration of gravity that causes space-time to curve around massive objects?
    It is called Flamm's paraboloid, and dates back to 1916. You can see it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwarzschild_metric
    There is also a reference to the original publication.
  5. Feb 2, 2016 #4
    Thank you for your reply's! I understand little of physics but it excites me tremendously. I'm very interested in the transition from concept to visualization because imagination plays an important role here. I have found that visualizations of concepts do not always call the theory that they wants to portray. That it can be a matter of interpretation. I find it very interesting that imagination is used to convey accurate scientific knowledge. Imagination play's during the conversation between the illustrator and the physicist. Afterwards the visualization of the theory allows the viewer to use his imagination as well to interpret the visualization. But I know that this forum is not the right place for this kind of topic about imagination.
  6. Feb 10, 2016 #5
    This may not be precisely relevant to your query, but 'thought experiments', such as those conducted by Einstein, can have a strong visualisation component to them.
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