In an age of increasingly complex science, pictures can be a key to communicating clearly. But few science communicators have had a chance to learn how to access the power of pictures to engage and educate their audiences.

This course is designed to empower anyone to do that — to create pictures that clearly convey science information, no matter how complex.

What you'll learn in this course

S.P.A.R.K. will change forever the way you think about pictures and use them to communicate about science. 

You’ll learn core concepts of visual communication. This is not a course on how to draw. The S.P.A.R.K. strategies work with many ways of presenting information — diagrams, charts, posters, sketches, cartoons, even data visualizations. What you'll learn can be applied to pictures created by hand or with software you already know.

Each of the 24 videos is 10 minutes or less. You’ll learn:

  • A perfect way to jumpstart your visual thinking and transition from words to pictures
  • How to speak with the 8 elements of visual language
  • Ways to target your audience’s visual sweet spot
  • Tips for visually communicating to people who aren’t familiar with your topic

Learn to harness the power of pictures to engage and educate any audience! 

Course Content

    1. Video 1: About this course

    1. Video 2: What is a picture?

    2. Quiz

    3. Video 3: Making clear pictures

    4. Quiz

    1. Video 4: Context sandwich

    2. Quiz

    3. Context sandwich worksheet

    4. Video 5: DEMO–Serve a Sandwich

    1. Video 6: DEMO–Jumpstart visual thinking

    2. Quiz

    3. PDF Visual menu template

    1. Video 7: Path patterns

    2. Quiz

    3. PDF: Path pattern chart

    4. Video 8: Narrative paths

    5. Quiz

    6. Video 9: DEMO–Plan a Path

    1. Video 10: Audience sweet spot

    2. Quiz

    3. PDF: Sweet spot locator

    4. Video 11: Let go of literalism

    5. Quiz

    6. Video 12: Customize to connect

    7. Quiz

    8. Video 13: DEMO–Access your Audience

About this course

  • 3 hours of video content
  • $199.00 (non-ASC member)
  • $180.00 (ASC member)


Betsy Palay


Betsy has over 30 years of experience creating visual communications for science researchers, educators, major biotech companies, and entrepreneurs. She is the founder and former president of a design firm that specialized in investor communications, assisting clients in raising a total of over half a billion dollars in Initial Public Offerings (IPO’s). Betsy has an MS in medical and biological illustration from the University of Michigan, is a Board-Certified Medical Illustrator, and is a Fellow and a past president of the Association of Medical Illustrators. Over 100 of her original scientific illustrations have been accepted into the permanent archives of the Vesalius Trust Collection of the Lloyd Library and Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio. See her work at

Tami Tolpa


Tami has over 20 years of experience in scientific illustration and animation for clients including: Scientific American Magazine, The Scientist Magazine, Science News, MIT's Technology Review, Harvard University, and the University of Washington, as well as numerous physicians and biotechnology companies. Tami has an MFA in medical illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She’s a past board member and current Fellow of the Association of Medical Illustrators. Tami has spoken about science communication using visuals at the University of Washington, Rochester Institute of Technology, the Association of Medical Illustrators, The Northwest Science Writer's Association, Science Talk '18, and ComSciCon-PNW. She's currently the Scientific Illustrator at Gladstone Institutes. Her professional website is

Who should Register?

Media producers, writers, journalists, educators, publishers, communications professionals, researchers, academics, studentsanyone interested in making a greater impact with their science messages.

Join the ranks of science communicators who have already used S.P.A.R.K. to improve their outreach and communication skills, including: Yale Science Diplomats, Harvard University Science in the News (SITN), the Innovative Genomics Institute, the University of Miami, Louisiana Tech University, and the University of Oregon, along with labs and individuals worldwide.


“I highly recommend this course to other technical folks, including science writers who desire to clearly communicate their work to a broad audience.”

DK, communications consultant

“This is a well-thought-out course that was clearly prepared with care. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever felt the frustration of not being able to communicate complex ideas into clear visuals. A necessary resource for... science nonartists everywhere.”

NB, art director in academic setting

“Palay and Tolpa inspire us to tell meaningful stories using simple, easy to draw pictures built around a solid story path... I will highly recommend the course at my workshops and to anyone looking to advance to the next level in science presentation.”

DM, science communications trainer

“It was fun to do and I’ll recommend it to my colleagues.”

BI, science center exhibit designer, coordinator

“I found this course to include remarkably clear and sound advice for developing science graphics. Great content... especially for newbies and scientists.”

JC, science magazine graphics editor

“SPARK is the best and most comprehensive examination and explanation of techniques... to improve visual communication. It will change the way I think about and create more effective presentations.”

AP, physician scientist

“This is a terrific course for learning how to pare down dense information and prioritize the most important elements of your scientific story to communicate to your audience.”

Yale scientist, participant in Flipped Science Fair