Student made comic book to explain complex chemistry
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Late last spring, a student worked late into the night. As she doodled, her chemistry thesis took on a life of its own. Eventually, it was transformed into a comic book.
Veronica Berns, 28, was working on her Ph. D. in chemistry. She was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Berns said she long struggled to explain her work to her parents and friends.
The self-described comic book fan said she had begun to draft her thesis on quasicrystals. They are a subset of crystals that diverge from the usual structural characteristics of crystals. Berns quickly concluded that she needed a fresh way to describe the oddball compounds. To do it, she decided to use illustrations.
"They're not very well-polished illustrations. That's on purpose," Berns said. "I wanted it to be like I'm explaining on the back of an envelope."
On many occasions, it was on the back of an envelope or on a napkin that she doodled sketches. She was able to illustrate the chemical bonds. It allowed her to better show her parents what she was working on in the lab.
Jody Berns, Veronica's mother, said their family has a history of doodling and has shared comics for years.
Veronica Berns surprised her family with her comic book. It was called "Atomic Size Matters." She showed it off at her graduation last year. The book depicts cartoons of Berns wearing various costumes. It uses humor as well as simple comparisons to describe elaborate chemistry.
"We're just really proud that she can take something so complex and put it into a fun visual explanation that everyone can enjoy," Jody Berns said.
Veronica Berns' professor Danny Fredrickson said Berns was the first of his students to construct her thesis in an artistic way. He said often it is difficult for scientists to explain what they do with proper context.
"If it's worth doing, we should be able to explain it," Fredrickson said.
He said Berns managed to accomplish that.
Berns said she hopes other scientists will find ways to illustrate what they're doing in the lab. She now lives in Chicago and works as a chemist. Berns also writes a blog. There, she uses comics to explain the work of Nobel Prize winning scientists.
Berns started a Kickstarter fundraising campaign on the Internet to finance printing a small batch of the books. She said she wanted to raise $5,965 to cover the costs of professional printing. The website says she has raised more than $14,000.
Critical thinking challenge: How does humor aid understanding?