Revolutionizing Science Communication -- With 3D-Printed Jewelry

Two years into their postdocs, Idoya Lahortiga and Luk Cox formalized their collaborative projects in science communication in 2010; thus was born somersault18:24. Over the years, their work has grown tremendously; the numbers speak for themselves: somersault has a following of over half a million on Facebook. Nevertheless, it's difficult to encapsulate what exactly they do--the defining nature of somersault is in that they defy definition. Their mission and goal encapsulates the unifying ideology behind their diverse work:

"We believe that tools for science communication and education should be as free as possible, easy to share, and accessible for everyone."

Luk and Idoya balance a full-time workload as scientific illustrators for large journals such as Haematologica with their various, unique projects. Among their foremost projects is the enormous repository of resources full of icon sets, illustrations/infographics, and entire libraries of 3D renders. They generously provide these under a pay-what-you-want philosophy, especially considering some of these tools are worth upwards of 100 euros. These resources have been downloaded almost 4000 times with about 1 euro per download in matching donations--far from breaking even.

However, the somersault team's newest and coolest project has provided a new stream of money that they channel toward paying for these resources: they create science-inspired jewelry. For each piece they sell, $5 goes to the platform.

The catchy ideas is to "wear your passion for science." Printed from 3D-models in materials such as gold and silver, the jewelry is minimalist and neat--ranging from the delicate looking phylogenetic tree necklace, to the classic neuron-shaped pendant. As Idoya and Luk write on Shapeways, "3D printing is a disruptive technology, it allows you to spread awareness about almost anything, including science."

I had the fortune of meeting with Idoya and Luk thanks to an introduction from Dennis Finch of mediomix. We ended up meeting again a month later to discuss further collaboration, but our first conversation quickly gave me a sense of their innovative, disruptive attitude to science. As trained scientists with PhD's in Biochemistry, they've seen the system from the inside and the outside. I've already ranted about my own opinions of the flaws with science communication, and it was refreshing to see people working so hard to incite a revolution. Within a longer conversation leaping from topic-to-topic on the wheel of science communication: from the public, to publishers, to policymakers, Luk memorably stated, "Graphics need to be the standard for science communication. That is the future."

The challenge in making science communication open and accessible lies in funding the distribution of these materials. Without institutional backing for such innovative projects, it will be entrepreneurial spirits in the likes of somersault 18:24 that will pioneer the revolution in science communication. Buy their jewelry on Etsy or Shapeways.