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,

[via The Big Story]

Northeastern University Is Now Handing Out Echo Dots to Its Students

Northeastern University is welcoming new students with an unusual addition to their dorm rooms this fall: an Echo Dot. According to USA Today, the Boston university will give some of its incoming students the option to receive a specialized Echo Dot smart home device that can help answer questions related to their school experience.

Northeastern's Echo Dot program doesn't just provide standard-issue smart home devices. The university has developed a special "Husky Helper" skill (named after the university mascot) that can answer common questions that students might otherwise pose to student services over the phone. The idea is that students will get answers to their questions quickly, and student services won't have to put so many employees to work answering basic queries about issues like dining hall meal card balances.

They can ask it things like whether they have a health insurance waiver on file with the university (a requirement for students who don't have university insurance) or have the device set a timer when they have to leave for their next class. Of course, they can also use it for all the things a non-student might use a Dot for, like playing music or getting weather updates.

Students can decide whether to opt in to the program and how much access to give Amazon. They can add information about their class schedules, meal plan accounts, tuition payments, and more. Students who ask about some sensitive information, like their grades, are instead directed to the proper university department to call, rather than their private data being read out for the whole dorm to hear.

The Northeastern Echo Dot program started out with a 60-student pilot for the 2017 - 2018 academic year, but will expand to more students in the fall.

[h/t USA Today]

Here Are the Colleges In Each State With the Best Job Placement Rates

In a tough economic climate, kids trying to figure out where to go to college might be more concerned with their future job prospects than the on-campus party scene. This graphic from the career search site Zippia, spotted by Thrillist, provides a surprising look at the universities that boast the highest post-graduation job placement rates in each state.

Zippia looked at job placement ratings from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a collection of surveys from the National Center for Education Statistics that any college or university that gets federal funding has to complete. (That includes private universities.) The company ranked universities based on their job placement ratings for students 10 years after graduation.

Here's what the results look like across all 50 states:

A yellow map of the U.S. labeled with the college that boasts the highest job placement rate in each state

Some of the institutions on the list may be colleges you’ve never heard of. While prestigious universities like Vanderbilt University in Tennessee might be familiar, other entries are more obscure. The highest job placement rate for a college in Massachusetts isn’t from Harvard—it’s Endicott College, a school near Salem with about 2500 undergraduates.

These are the 10 colleges with the highest job placement rates across all 50 states, according to Zippia’s analysis. Each school has a job placement rate of more than 95 percent 10 years after graduation.

1. Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania
2. Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island
3. Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio
4. Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon
5. Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York
6. University of Sioux Falls in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
7. University of Wisconsin – Platteville in Platteville, Wisconsin
8. Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts
9. Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska
10. Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut

That said, it's not entirely clear what kind of employment is covered by this data. It's possible that some of the graduates included aren't working in their desired field 10 years on or are otherwise underemployed but still working full time. The jobs these graduates have may have nothing to do with their major or what they studied in school. And since Zippia looked at data from people who graduated 10 years ago, that means the company likely looked at 2008 graduates, who left college at the height of the recession and may not have had a lot of great job options, potentially skewing the data toward very specialized schools, like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (the top choice in both Arizona and Florida).

The full list is below.

A list of the top colleges for job placement in each state

[h/t Thrillist]