We kick off Juniata’s spring break with page 6 of the ATP story. In this episode, we introduce a ginormous scissor-shaped protein to illustrate how ATP affects the function of another molecule. As I was inking the scissors, I was wondering about what exactly I was thinking. I have to redraw this a couple more times and I am already sick of all of the pluses and minuses. Only a few pages to go. Then I need to start writing the story of cellular respiration…

UPDATED: Page 6 and 7 have been modified at the suggestion of my lovely wife and primary editor. Lisa pointed out two visual sticking points she thought could be improved. First, it seemed to her that putting the phosphate right at the hinge would block the blades from closing completely. Second, she didn’t feel there were enough positively charged amino acids in the handles for the phosphate to pull on. At first I resisted the suggestions. (Frankly, I didn’t want to do the work.) But, she was spot on. It is nice to be married to someone with good visual literacy. I have included the updated version below the original.

You can read the story from the beginning on the ATP post.


Page four stimulated a number of comments from friends that lead to a bit of a dialogue change. The specific change was in response to an email conversation with my pal and JC physicist Jamie White. Jamie and his family are on sabbatical in Australia, but he is still offering editorial commentary from a distance. The specific problem he noted was that I invoked an example of magnetic fields to explain an electrical field phenomenon. They are, of course, not the same thing. It is most likely that the students I am trying to reach wouldn’t catch that, but their teachers might and the teachers are who I need to win over if I want the story to be used.  I have rewritten a sentence to refine the dialogue for accuracy.Thus, the following bit of dialogue:

“Anyone whose [sic] played with magnets knows that opposite charges attract, but similar charges repel each other.”

has become:

“When we consider the electrical forces between molecules, opposite charges attract, but similar charges repel each other.”

It isn’t as elegant (in my opinion) and it doesn’t evoke the very familiar sensation of trying to push two refrigerator magnets together, but this was one of those times when I felt it was better to err on the side of accuracy. For one thing, the idea that similar charges repel isn’t a difficult concept for people to grasp (we do routinely say that “opposites attract”) so, I don’t think the loss is significant. The fixed page is below and has been inserted into the whole story over on the ATP post.


ATP, page 5

Page five explains the mystery of the missing negative charge (whew, finally!) and underscores the role that the remaining negative charges play in making ATP a highly reactive molecule (note that ‘highly reactive’ is in bold on the page below, so it MUST be important). We also have an opportunity to for some character silliness and a shout out to the previous photosynthesis story. The pieces are all coming together. On the next page we meet a gigantic protein in the shape of…oh, wait. I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Once again, I appreciate the comments of Dr. Keeney’s Molecular Techniques course. They suggested that I point that the energy to assemble ATP comes from the food we eat. Thanks, kids, it is a good connection to make.

You can read the story from the beginning in the ATP story post.


ATP, page 4

You can thank the students in Molecular Techniques for about a third of this page. My colleague Jill Keeney is teaching the course and there is a writing component for the students. I have had several conversations with Jill about this story over the last several months so, she is familiar with the gradual evolution of the story. She had the bright idea to show her students in Techniques the various iterations of the script as well as the first three pages of art so they could get  a look at the ugly process of writing about science. The kids in the class (Alyssa Fazi, Kat Connolly, Nathan Bicher, Shannon Harrington, and Jared Haidet) also gave me plenty of feedback. They were particularly good at spotting things I was hoping no one would notice. For example, on this page, they wondered if readers might be confused by the “disappearing” negative charge when you combine the phosphate group  and ADP. I had hoped to just skate on by this (I can be lazy) but their nudge provided me with an opportunity for humor that pays homage to one of my favorite bits from Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail. There are a few other improvements in upcoming pages that I will credit to the Techniques class.

In the “what was he thinking?” department, let’s take a look at the top of the page. The dramatic moment of pushing the phosphate and ADP together was meant to serve multiple purposes. First, it draws attention to the fact that the negative charges on this molecule are hard to stick together and set-up the fact that they pop off pretty easily. Second, I hope having the illustration consume half the page indicates the magnitude of energy we are talking about. Third, it was fun character moment as Wilbur and Harvey get to act out the metaphor of their relationship. Fourth, it was an excuse do draw some Kirby krackle. And finally, I got…to…write…in…halting…text..to indicate…a..physical…struggle. Whew.

You can read the story from the beginning in the ATP story post.


ATP, page 3

Page three of our story introduces the molecule in question. The goal here is to present the structure of ATP, the component parts and the fact that the phosphate groups carry negative charges. Having the characters count the charges may guide some readers to do the same and (perhaps) that interactive moment will help them internalize the information more thoroughly. Drawing the full structure of the ADP is meant to draw attention to the fact that it is exactly the same as ATP except for the phosphate group.

The last panel sets up an important moment in the explanation that parallels the character interaction between Wilbur and Harvey. My hope is that “humanizing” the coupling of the phosphate and ADP and employing some humor will underscore the idea that this is a highly reactive molecule. That will probably make more sense when I have the next page done…

You can read the story from the beginning in the ATP story post.


ATP, page 2

Here is the second page of the ATP story. The first page set-up our cast and the nature of their relationships with the hopes that this will pay comedic dividends later. The second page starts easing us into the topic. Specifically, I wanted to poke fun at the metaphors (or are they similes?) that we use to describe how ATP works. Don’t get me wrong, these can be very useful mechanisms to start thinking about something. Unfortunately, it is very easy for our understanding to go no further than these surface analogies. When that happens, it is much more difficult to understand other fundamental aspects of biology. So, we have a little fun and set ourselves up for a little more depth. The content in this story is comparable to the content contained in the four pages from our Intro Bio text that discusses how ATP functions.

You can read the story from the beginning in the ATP story post.


There are a lot of projects that I have in the works that I can’t really talk about, so it is fun to actually put something out there that folks will seen sooner rather than later. Presenting ATP!

This story is a follow-up on the Photosynthesis story from last year and will focus on the basics of how ATP works. As I did with the Photosynthesis story, I will post this story a page at a time and invite comments from anyone willing to chime in. The story is written and the science has been vetted by a couple of colleagues, but any feedback will be useful. I am looking for comments on clarity, integrity of the science and entertainment value. The story will probably only be about 8-10 pages. For this tale, Harvey the grasshopper joins Wilbur and Ant Edna.


…someday I hope to see a whole episode! I’m in this clip twice and only look completely dorky once. Win.

My friend and painter Sandy McBride once said that the only people who care about kids’ art are parents and artists. So, that makes me doubly interested in the artwork we made over the last couple days. The first is an piece Max did featuring a creepy long armed character moving among various panels of color and texture (he used pencils and markers here). I am especially fond of the mysterious opening revealing the various cogs and gears of an unknown machine.

Max _gears

Next up we have Jack’s War Elephant. Jack has been working diligently on a school project about the Punic Wars. (I love these projects because I get to learn cool, new stuff from the boys). His poster focused on the armor and weapons used by the Carthaginians during the first of these epic battles. He illustrated his poster board profusely, but my favorite picture is his War Elephant. I think I want one in time for my next faculty meeting..


Finally, if you are looking for something to do with the kiddies this August, send them to Ceramics Camp at Juniata. Our potter Bethany Benson is in charge and, as you can see from the smiling faces in this ad, a good time was had by all. Both Max and Jack loved the camp. Plus, as Max is demonstrating, getting your hands dirty is fun…


As prelude to the Sequential SmArt conference in May, we are kicking off the Teach-in-Two Challenge. You can play, too! In two comic panels, explain something you think is cool. Take a picture of it with your computer or phone camera (or scan it if you want to get all high-techy), post it on your Facebook page and let us know so we can share it. (go to the Sequential SmArt Facebook page and Like us to spread the word!) It doesn’t need to be fancy. Stick figures in pencil will be great. Here is the pencil sketch I did to get things rolling…


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