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Emojis and pokémons for science

Bengt Oberger / Wikicommons | Anna Smylie A few emojis suggested by researchers (left) and children hunting pokémonsBengt Oberger / Wikicommons | Anna Smylie

Can cell phone apps and visual tools from the Internet be used to popularize science? The answer is yes, according to two initiatives announced in November 2016. The background for one of them was a conference in California on developing emojis – small faces and symbols used in messages and on websites. A group of researchers at the conference proposed adopting more ideograms related to the universe of science, such as test tubes, the DNA helix, planets and microbes. An international consortium that approves new emojis will review the application. Jessica Morrison, chemist and editor of the journal Chemical & Engineering News, asks Nature “where’s my frowny-face scientist emoji to show that my experiment went wrong?” In the second initiative, researchers from Cambridge and Oxford University and University College London, in the United Kingdom, studied the cell phone game Pokémon Go and published their findings in an article in the journal Conservation Letters. They discussed whether the game’s success in encouraging millions of individuals to leave their homes and interact with virtual animals could help spark interest in the natural world. According to the work, the game increased the amount of time users spent outdoors and it promoted contact with real animals; the Twitter hashtag #Pokeblitz helps users identify real animals whose pictures were taken during the game. The authors are suggesting improvements in the game, such as adding real species to the gallery of Pokémons and placing virtual animals in remote areas to encourage people to take side trips outside urbanized regions.