University of Toronto students create Pokémon-style science cards – University Affairs


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SciCards showcase unique and extraordinary animals, plants and even molecules.

What do a pistol shrimp, a blue dragon sea slug, and a panther chameleon have in common?

Each is now the star of its own “SciCard,” a set of science-based collectible cards created by a team of students from the University of Toronto’s Master of Science in Biomedical Communications (BMC) program.

Inspired by the Pokémon collectible cards they grew up with, BMC students Shehryar Saharan and Xingyu (Michie) Wu designed the unique science and art project during the first wave of the COVID-19 lockdown last year. It was a way to connect with peers and faculty, as well as a chance to take what they were learning in their program in an even more creative direction.

Photos provided by Shehryar Saharan and Xingyu (Michie) Wu.

“I have always loved science, and I have always loved art, and I have always hoped to find a career that is a mixture of the two,” says Ms. Wu. When she discovered BMC, it was a proverbial light bulb moment, although she almost literally fell on it in the health sciences complex on the University of Toronto‘s Mississauga campus, while studying for a Bachelor of Science degree.

“There was only one floor dedicated to the BMC program, and you walk in and see this amazing piece of scientific art on all the walls,” she said. “That’s how I found it out, and I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is what I have to do.'”

The idea was simple: Ms. Wu, Mr. Saharan, and seven other students each chose a different part of the natural world (an animal, a plant, or even a molecule) and decided what style they would use to illustrate it. Like Pokémon Cards, which feature stats about each Pokémon, including their unique abilities, SciCards highlight an extraordinary trait for each creature, explaining it in more detail on the reverse side.

Mr. Saharan chose a panther chameleon, which can change color by adjusting the spacing of the reflective crystals in his skin. He drew the chameleon in carbon dust and then inverted the image to create the appearance of night vision.

Meanwhile, Ms. Wu illustrated her sea slug in the style of official Pokémon art, making it a stylized cartoon representation of the animal in its murky underwater habitat.

And just like with Pokémon, each SciCard grants a certain amount of life to the creature. Saharan’s chameleon rolled a 48. Ms. Wu’s Blue Dragon Sea Slug came to 58, thanks to her special ability: He’s got poisoned fingers, “she said,” and if you touch him he’s actually injecting you with poison. “

Seven other students also contributed maps, ranging from pistol shrimp (which can shoot bubbles at high speed) to southern cassowary (a flightless bird with dagger-shaped claws and a dangerous kick).

Ms. Wu and Mr. Saharan plan to include the cards in welcome packages for incoming BMC students and hope they will inspire an annual tradition.

There might also be more practical uses. “We see something like this being really useful in high school or even elementary school classrooms,” Saharan said. “It would be really cool to swap them out, turn them into a game – an interactive way to introduce these concepts to students who are just starting to learn about the animal kingdom. “

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