Science enthusiast creates comic book from doctoral thesis
By Cheryl Minns, Arts Editor
Veronica Berns, PhD, has always loved science from a young age, wishing that she could catch a ride on the Magic School Bus or that Bill Nye the Science Guy would be her fourth grade teacher. As she got older, she realized that some of her friends and family didn’t understand science as well as she did, which became particularly difficult when she began her doctoral thesis in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I got very sad that this thing—this culmination of five total years of my life—wouldn’t be accessible to my non-scientist friends and family,” she wrote to the Other Press.
That’s when Berns got creative and translated the complex content of her thesis into something her family and friends would definitely understand: a comic book.
“I chose a comic book format because it’s what I know how to do. I am a fan of comic books and graphic novels, but I also love to draw and doodle,” she wrote. “It also helped that my particular area of study is very visual.”
Atomic Size Matters is a full-colour, 50-page comic book about the “theory of why calcium and cadmium atoms pack together to form quasicrystals.” The book is divided into six sections, starting with the basics of solid structures and the way atoms interact, and moving on to quasicrystals and where this kind of research is headed in the future.
After realizing the impact the comic book could have on non-scientists, Berns set out to publish her comic book, not through a publisher but with the help of crowd-funding.
“To me, the book is a practical replacement for sitting down with someone over lunch and explaining to them this cool story about theoretical chemistry,” she wrote. “Kickstarter allowed me to put my voice and face in front of the book and connect with people before they even get their copy in the mail.”
The Kickstarter campaign for the comic book has become a success, raising more than $9,000 from over 300 backers, and still has plenty of time left before it finishes on February 3. The campaign became the Kickstarter Project of the Day and reached its funding goal of $5,965 on January 12. It was also chosen as a Kickstarter Staff Pick.
“I’ve gotten a lot of heartwarming messages about parents eager to read it to their kids, and grown children of scientists who want to read the book with their moms and dads and have a conversation about science with everyone on the same page,” Berns wrote. “I’m really excited to see it bringing people together. That’s a positive effect I didn’t predict.”
The colourful, cartoonish illustrations and unique, handwritten lettering in Atomic Size Matters make the comic book stylistically approachable for most age groups.
“The font is one I made using my own handwriting. It was important to me that everything looked really hand-done and a little bit sloppy, like I was drawing it just now off the top of my head,” she wrote. “The Sunday funnies section was a huge part of my life as a kid, and I think the handwritten font idea came from there. Just really simple drawings with a bold, black line.”
Atomic Size Matters is just the start for Berns and science-themed comics. She’s already got her next idea in mind.
“I’ve been thinking about making a series of comics that explain the science behind the annual Nobel Prize,” she wrote. “I’ve done a few of them, and it has been fun to venture into unfamiliar territory like biochemistry and cell growth. But it takes a lot of time, so it will be a while before I have a substantial collection built up.”
To learn more about Atomic Size Matters or to support the campaign, check out the project on Kickstarter.com. Berns can also be found on Tumblr at Nique.tumblr.com