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Chemistry Ph.D. Student Turned Her Thesis Into a Comic Book

Mention the word “quasicrystals” and everyone will immediately know what you’re talking about, right? Probably not. University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Ph.D. student Veronica Berns recognized this conundrum when she began working on her thesis. Berns wanted to share her work with friends and family, but she struggled to find an accessible way to do so. Eventually, she decided that the best way to explain these divergent crystals was to diverge from the normal thesis form herself– and thus her chemistry comic book, Atomic Size Matters, was born. 

Berns’s family has a history of doodling and sharing comics, so what better way for her to involve her parents than with a medium with which they were all comfortable? At her graduation last year she surprised her parents with a comic book filled with cartoons, humor, and simple comparisons to describe her complex work. She purposely focused more on doodles than polished illustrations, telling the Associated Press that she “wanted it to be like I’m explaining [it] on the back of an envelope.” Atomic Size Matters was a big hit, and not just with Berns’s family.

Berns’s adviser, Danny Fredrickson, said that she was the first of his students to construct her thesis in an artistic way. In response to the question, “How would you communicate this to someone that doesn’t do science?,” he replied, “This. This is it!” Berns thought that perhaps others would be interested in her comic as well, and started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to print a small batch of the books. Berns raised over $14,000, more than twice what she had asked for, which helped her realize the vital role that her book could play in the learning process. “It’s really important, now more than ever, to talk about science in an accessible way,” she noted. 


Berns now works as a chemist in Chicago, but she still finds time for doodling. Her latest project is a blog explaining the work of Nobel Prize winning scientists, which can be found on her website, VeronicaBerns.com.

[via The Big Story]

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Design Firm Envisions the Driverless School Bus of the Future
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Engineers have already designed vehicles capable of shuttling pizzas, packages, and public transit passengers without a driver present. But few have considered how this technology can be used to transport our most precious cargo: kids. Though most parents would be hesitant to send their children on a bus with no one in the driver's seat, one design firm believes autonomous vehicle technology can change their rides for the better. Their new conceptual project, called Hannah, illustrates their ideas for the future of school bus travel.

As Co.Design reports, Seattle-based design firm Teague tackled both the practical challenges and the social hurdles when designing their driverless school bus. Instead of large buses filled with dozens of kids, each Hannah vehicle is designed to hold a maximum of six passengers at a time. This offers two benefits: One, fewer kids on the route means the bus can afford to pick up each student at his or her doorstep rather than a designated bus stop. Facial recognition software would ensure every child is accounted for and that no unwanted passengers can gain access.

The second benefit is that a smaller number of passengers could help prevent bullying onboard. Karin Frey, a University of Washington sociologist who consulted with the team, says that larger groups of students are more likely to form toxic social hierarchies on a school bus. The six seats inside Hannah, which face each other cafeteria table-style, would theoretically place kids on equal footing.

Another way Hannah can foster a friendlier school bus atmosphere is inclusive design. Instead of assigning students with disabilities to separate cars, everyone can board Hannah regardless of their abilities. The vehicle drives low to the ground and extends a ramp to the road when dropping off passengers. This makes the boarding and drop-off process the same for everyone.

While the autonomous vehicles lack human supervisors, the buses can make up for this in other ways. Hannah can drive both backwards and forwards and let out children on either side of the car (hence the palindromic name). And when the bus isn’t ferrying kids to school, it can earn money for the district by acting as a delivery truck.

Still, it may be a while before you see Hannah zipping down your road: Devin Liddel, the project’s head designer, says it could take at least five years after driverless cars go mainstream for autonomous school buses to start appearing. All the regulations that come with anything involving public schools would likely prevent them from showing up any sooner. And when they do arrive, Teague suspects that major tech corporations could be the ones to finally clear the path.

"Could Amazon or Lyft—while deploying a future of roving, community-centric delivery vehicles—take over the largest form of mass transit in the United States as a sort of side gig?" the firm's website reads. "Hannah is an initial answer, a prototype from the future, to these questions."

[h/t Co.Design]

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New Pop-Up Museum in Maryland Looks at What It's Like Being a Teen Today
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Museums across America explore everything from break-ups to the human urinary tract system. Now, The Washington Post reports that a group of Maryland high school students have launched a pop-up museum dedicated to the modern teenage experience—selfies, schoolwork, and social pressures included.

Located in a vacant restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, the Museum of Contemporary American Teenagers (MoCAT)—which is set to run from December 6 to December 9, and again from December 14 to December 16—is primarily organized by students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Organizers believe it’s the first project of its kind to explore teen identity and culture.

Displays at MoCAT, which received funding through donations and crowdsourcing, will include murals, 30 exhibits, live performances, and 150 “selfie” sculptures molded from clay. Exhibition themes are slated to change daily, and cover topics that run the gamut from unrealistic body image expectations to smartphone addiction and college application stress. Others are more political in nature, examining everything from fear of gun violence to shifting gender norms.

The MoCAT isn’t intended to be permanent, as it’s located inside the future sight of Marriott’s new headquarters. But according to The Washington Post, the students say they’d love to see the initiative eventually gain new life as a traveling exhibition featuring contributions from teens around America.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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