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Science Communication


Diverse crayons for coloring diverse scientists

by Andrea Widener
December 18, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 48


Creating a world of colors

A box of crayons with an array of skin colors.
Credit: Crayola
Multicultural crayons: A cosmetic chemist helped Crayola design its new skin-colored crayons.

In 2019, Victor Casale got a cryptic email from Crayola asking him to work with the company on a secret project. The cosmetic chemist’s mind immediately jumped to that single pinkish crayon that has been the primary skin-color choice for kids for decades.

Crayola soon confirmed it was recruiting Casale for its Colors of the World project, and he jumped at the chance to help create a whole new skin-color palette of crayons. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I was born to do this,’ ” he says.

Casale has been thinking about skin color for decades. In the 1980s, he was a chemistry undergraduate at the University of Toronto when his future brother-in-law asked him to help him make lipstick. That effort eventually turned into a successful career as a color chemist and entrepreneur with MAC Cosmetics, Cover FX Skincare, and a new company, Pure Culture Beauty, which creates personalized skin products on the basis of a customer’s microbiome.

“I remember doing research projects on skin color from LA to Miami to Japan, just looking at different skin colors and how I would make products to either match it or complement it,” says Casale, who spoke to Newscripts from a chemist’s dream workspace, a satellite lab he set up in his basement during the pandemic, complete with a spectrophotometer and other equipment.

For his cosmetics work, Casale had created a grid of different skin tones. “I took the lightest shade I’ve ever measured anyone and the darkest shade, and I staged the shades,” along the grid from lightest to darkest, he says. Then he did the same thing from pink to golden hues.

His complete grid included far more shades than Crayola could make, so he combined 3–4 close colors for each of the 24 multicultural crayons. He’d propose a shade, and Crayola would turn that into a crayon. Then they would each test it to make sure it worked on white paper.

The Colors of the World crayons became available in May and have been in high demand ever since. Casale hopes any teacher or parent can “drop a box of crayons on a table and know that everyone in that room would find something that represents them,” he says. “That’s what I feel good about.”


Coloring science’s diversity

Newscripts knows the perfect place to use those Colors of the World crayons: a new coloring book highlighting diverse scientists, created by Puerto Rican microbiologist Semarhy Quiñones-Soto.

A drawing of a female chemist with goggles on her head holding a flask.
Credit: Semarhy Quiñones-Soto
Drawing diversity: A new coloring book showcases an array of female scientists.

Quiñones-Soto started drawing while she was in graduate school at the University of California, Davis, but her subjects were mostly fairies, mermaids, and other fantasy characters. “That was my escape from grad school,” she tells Newscripts.

After she got a job as a lecturer and coordinator for a diversity program at Sacramento State University, Quiñones-Soto quit drawing for a while. But she picked it back up when she started to stress about whether she was still a “real” scientist. Around that time, she ran across a book about the vast range of science careers. “That’s when I started mixing science and art,” she says.

She soon had a large collection of drawings of multicultural female scientists, each with a steampunk theme that harks back to her fantasy-drawing days. A friend encouraged her to start an Instagram account (, and that led her to create her coloring book, Types of Scientists, which is available from Amazon for $15.

The book includes an A–Z list of researchers, ranging from astronomer to zoologist. Each has a unique hairdo and outfit and is holding an item. “I try to come up with something that identifies the field,” Quiñones-Soto says.

The chemist in the book is wearing personal protective equipment, complete with throwback goggles, lab coat, and gloves, and is carrying a flask. The toxicologist holds plant to represent environmental toxicology.

Quiñones-Soto was deliberate about choosing to feature women of color. She has heard from Black and Latina scientists who say they have never seen representations of scientists like them before. “That’s what keeps me going,” she says.

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