Date of Award


Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Cork Institute of Technology

First Advisor

Paul Green


In recent years a decline in the number of Irish students choosing to study science, at second level and on into third level, has become potentially harmful to the desired creation of a science-based knowledge economy. A primary contributing factor towards this decline is a lack of interest in the subject within the classroom, as was established by The Task Force on the Physical Sciences in 2002.

The primary aim of this Masters research is to investigate the role of visualisation in making the study of science more accessible and engaging to students to counter this decline. To this end a body of novel and engaging imagery is created during the course of the study. This imagery is primarily digital in nature and taps into the increasing role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education.

Research methodologies used include practical as well as written components. Primary research, in the fonn of interviews with relevant individuals and groups such as teachers and students, in concert with desk research of relevant literature, informs and drives the practical creation of imagery. This is a cyclical process where new imagery is re-tested in the field and then re-informs the desk research, which in turn further refines the practical component.

The study begins by exploring a broad range of possible subject matter and venues. The use of public science centres and extra-curricular science-based topics is focused on for a period and a range of imagery created and tested in this context. However, continued primary and secondary research indicates that the most suitable environment for the purposes of this study is within the classroom itself, specifically dealing with the junior certificate science syllabus. With this in mind a range of topics are examined and the periodic table is found to be the most suitable for visualisation, due to its relatively difficult and abstract nature and its integral positioning within the junior certificate syllabus. As a result, the primary practical output takes the form of a visualisation of the periodic table entitled ‘The Elemental’. This uses a cast of twenty animated characters representing the first twenty elements to communicate the properties and behaviours of those elements. This visualisation builds on existing informal practices used by teachers whereby the inanimate elements are anthropomorphised. It uses indirect imagery, concerned with evoking emotional responses in its audience rather than direct illustration which communicates explicit information. This indirect imagery is then combined with aspects of character design and serves to promote discussion and engagement within the class. Such imagery should complement, not replace, existing visual representations of the periodic table. ‘The Elemental’ software tool is available for download at

‘The Elementals’ tap into the allusionary base of the student, the store of signs and symbols familiar to them from popular culture and imagery from their everyday lives. It does this in a novel and engaging manner, lending new perspectives to subject matter which could otherwise be perceived as dry or ‘boring’. The Elementals is an example of how visualisation can be used to dramatise or ‘vivify’ science, creating higher levels of engagement and motivation within the classroom. Field testing of the product with a first year science class as well as interviews with their teacher support this.

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