September 2011

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Science librarian extraordinaire John Meier brought the following blog to my attention. The Small Science Collective has a treasure trove of cool comics and ‘zines dedicated to concepts in science. There’s a lot nice work here and you should check it out. Given my love of insects,  I had to present the ‘zine below by talented Emily Fundis. Fruit flies are pretty cool and this is a nice introduction. Just click on the image to read the entire comic in spectacular Web-O-Vision!

fruitfliescomic(Fundis)

And apparently that’s a GOOD thing. Check out today’s Doonesbury via Slate.

Do you ever get emails from Amazon recommending books? Here’s a screen shot of a recent email I received. I agree with the recommendations, but already own everything on the list.  So, consider this my recommendations for you, dear reader.

Screen shot 2011-09-22 at 10.51.54 AM

And,  just for the record, I’m pretty sure this will the first and only time anything I’ve done will appear higher on a list than Bone.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article called Colorfully Drawn to Science available for the next five days for free. It discusses science comics and I get my 2 cents in about half way through the article.

It was Mountain Day yesterday and that means I had time to doodle. Here is the T-shirt design for this year’s Socctoberfest.  Monsters are very fun to draw. My favorite bit is the tongue of the werewolf.Socctoberfest_Final_small_2011

Last summer my colleague Mike Boyle convened an NSF-funded meeting focused on NextGen genome sequencing.  One of the goals of the meeting was to establish a consortium of small liberal arts schools that could partner with a genome core (in this case the one at Penn State) and get NextGen sequencing for teaching. I was a participant in the meeting which may prompt those who know me to ask “What the &^%* was Hosler doing there? He doesn’t know &^%^$ about genomics!” True, but I’ll use my modicum of assessment training to help with the assessment of the program. I also designed the logo (this is where the cartooning comes in).

SEEKquence_text_color_gray

On the first day of the meeting, Malcolm Campbell gave the keynote speech to the group. Malcolm established the wildly successful GCAT (Genome Consortium for Active Teaching) and drew upon his experiences with that program to give our group some great advice and a list of things to do. Included in that list was a good name and logo. On the second day of the meeting, the entire group visited the genome core at PSU. I hadn’t planned to go and, instead, slept late. This was good move creatively, because in that hazing middle land between sleep and consciousness I came up with the name and logo. No one had actually asked me to do this, but I figured it might be something I could contribute.

I started with the assumption that Malcolm would allow the consortium to fall under the GCAT umbrella and combined that with a bad pun (a specialty of mine). Thus, the name I imagined was GCAT-SEEKquence, or GCAT-SEEK for short. The SEEK here refers to that fact that this program will provide students with genome data relevant to the mentor’s research organism and give them the opportunity to explore that data using bioinformatics (hence the iconic magnifying glass trained on the DNA sequence). An article about GCAT-SEEK ran online in the Chronicle of Higher Education. GCAT-SEEK also has its own website. And, of course, there’s a logo. Who knew so much could go into such a simple illustration?

…and that’s because there are a lot of cool people here. Today my colleague Dave Hsiung and his daughter Rebecca showed up at my office with a cupcake. I took a picture before sloppily consuming it.

Photo on 2011-09-05 at 10.27

Making cupcakes and delivering them to folks on campus is a Hsiung family tradition. In fact they were they were featured in an article about faculty recipes that recently appeared in Juniata Magazine. I hav included a page from the article below so you can see the Happy Club in action.

Screen shot 2011-09-05 at 10.37.10 AM

…and the clip is below. But first let me tell set this up for you.

Last February, Lisa and I went to Brooklyn to stand in an unheated warehouse for a few hours. It was awesome. Before we did that we had lunch with Jim Ottaviani and John and Frances Kerschbaum and their sweet little girl at a restaurant/bar near the unheated warehouse. I had never driven in Brooklyn before, so I almost took up drinking while at the bar but decided to refrain since we were in town for a taping. A month before this little excursion to the big city, some folks had called Jim about being a talking head for a Discovery Channel show called “Dark Matters.” He suggested they call me as well (Jim is a very cool guy). I chatted on the phone with a producer named Amy and convinced her that I was sufficiently full of baloney for television.

A few weeks before the filming, Amy sent along the address of the “studio.” Being nervous about my first drive to the big city (and let’s be honest, I was more worried about the parking than the actual driving), I Googled the location. When I used “street view” to get a look at the building I was a little nervous. There was no swanky studio just what looked like an abandoned warehouse. Now, I’ve read enough comics to know that abandoned warehouses are no place to hang out. You’re either gonna die in a gory gun fight or some super-villain in a giant robot suit is going to smash you flat. I called Amy to make sure it was the right location and she assured me that is was. Apparently, there are companies that own site with “character” and “ambiance.” She said that this place had both, but no heat and that I was to please dress warmly.

The big day arrived on February 11th. The boys would be staying at friends and we headed out. The drive was quite nice and I managed to find a place to park (whew)l. Lunch was a delight. I finally got to meet John’s daughter who was just about as charming as a little girl can get and it is is always my greatest pleasure to spend time with John, Frances and Jim, friends from waaaay back.

The filming took place in a warehouse room on the second or third floor. I stood in front of a small plywood table (to hold my notes) while I talked to Amy who stood beside the camera. Lisa sat in a chair in the corner desperately trying to hold on to as much heat as her multiple layers and jacket would allow. I was fortunate to have a small space heater at my feet.

Anyway, time passed and I didn’t hear anything. It was not hard to imagine that the pilot had not been picked-up and my brief time as a talking head would never see the light of day. Except it did. Yesterday, when I walked into the Comic Swap in State College, John, Denny and Adam informed me that a customer of theirs had just called to say they spotted me on the Discover Channel! When I got home, Max, Jack and I hunted down a clip and here it is! I haven’t seen the whole episode (I hope it airs again), but this sneak peek from the Discovery Channel features me and Jim. We look all smart and scientificky!

It is official: comics are an effective tool for teaching science.

The journal CBE-Life Science Education just published my article Are Comic Books an Effective Way to Engage Nonmajors in Learning and Appreciating Science? Although there have been a number of academic papers published that have advocated the use of comics for student literacy, as far as I know this is the first to systematically evaluate comics used in teaching. My result show that a) students learn just fine from comics and b) comics can change student opinions of a subject (in this case biology) for the better. This is the culmination of a project that started in 2004 with a grant from the National Science Foundation to create Optical Allusions.

The paper is available for download for free at the journal’s website (click on the title above). You can check out the whole excellent issue here. Be sure to download the paper so it gets a lot of hits and it looks like everyone loves educational comics! Because, of course, they do…

P.S. the answer to the question in the title is “yes”