Student made comic book to explain complex chemistry Veronica Berns holds the comic book "Atomic Size Matters" that she created to explain her doctoral chemistry thesis to her family (AP photos)
Student made comic book to explain complex chemistry
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Late last spring, a student worked late into the night, and as she doodled, her chemistry thesis took on a life of its own, transforming into a comic book.

Veronica Berns, 28, was working on her Ph. D. in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and said she long struggled to explain her work to her parents and friends. The self-described comic book fan said she began drafting her thesis on quasicrystals a subset of crystals that diverge from the usual structural characteristics of crystals. Berns quickly concluded that she would be best able to describe the oddball compounds with 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 of the chemical bonds 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 "Atomic Size Matters" at her graduation last year. The book depicts cartoons of Berns wearing various costumes and 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 and he acknowledged that 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, works as a chemist and also writes a blog in which 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 and the website says she has raised more than $14,000.

Critical thinking challenge: How does humor aid understanding?

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COMMENTS (17)
  • ARany-Cas
    5/11/2015 - 07:10 p.m.

    This is really amazing, because a lot of students would rather read a comic book than a textbook. Chemistry is already a hard subject to learn. This is a really cool way she has come up with. I would love to read the book She truly has a gift when it comes to comic books.

  • kateduffy27
    5/12/2015 - 01:18 p.m.

    Writing and illustrating a comic book about a school subject is a great idea! It seems like, for some people, it might be an easier way to learn. Lots of times, the things we read in textbooks aren't things we remember, because they don't include humor or easy to understand illustrations. When we read something we enjoy, we pay more attention. That's why I feel like there should be more comic books that explain difficult subjects to people who may not understand them. Graphic novels and books, since they're becoming more and more popular, could also serve a more educational purpose.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    5/14/2015 - 10:40 a.m.

    It is different to think of people learning from a comic book, but sounds kind of cool. I really don't understand science or enjoy it at all, so I think it would be really cool to have comic books like that to help explain things.

  • Btafoya9280
    5/14/2015 - 10:30 p.m.

    Humor aids understanding by putting something so common that we all understand with something new that we want to understand, thus making it easier to understand the information, if you see where I'm getting at. Let's be honest, we all want to go swimming or play that video game instead of doing boring homework (but in my opinion homework is interesting and it's fun to learn with the right attitude) but this makes learning easy, fun, and interesting. I've always loved teachers who make learning fun!

  • MAndrew-Cas
    5/16/2015 - 09:28 p.m.

    I think it is interesting that she has fond away to explain such complicated idea in away that a normal person could understand and follow.

  • Vy-Ann-Cla
    5/18/2015 - 04:41 p.m.

    Humor can help people understand because it can make them more interested in the subject. It also helps because people might be able to relate to another book or story that they heard and learn off of that.

  • raevynj-Koc
    5/21/2015 - 12:14 p.m.

    I think it's cool that a student could do something like this. This article is very motivating and inspiring. The idea is also a very smart and easy way to help students learn. How she raised money is pretty cool as well.

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