When Patricia Lang, Ball State chemistry professor and director of Ball State’s Indiana Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (IN-LSAMP) project, and her team found a new way to teach science, they took advantage of the opportunity to make something creative — in this case, a comic book.
Ball State’s IN-LSAMP program garnered national recognition for its use of the comic book format, collaborating with the university’s Technical Association for Graphic Arts (TAGA) to make science more accessible to younger audiences.
IN-LSAMP students, who usually receive mentorship and professional development practice through the program, decided to use the program as an opportunity to try a new way of communicating their message.
“We're so used to having it, frankly, be real cut and dry format in a journal — all business. That's the way scientists communicate with each other,” Lang said.
The comic came to fruition when Ball State art professor Hans Kellogg reached out to Lang to ask whether she had a topic his students could use as inspiration for a graphic design project. Kellogg then tasked TAGA with realizing the project.
Jim Workman, managing director of TAGA, said via email the organization is “dedicated to disseminating scientific research and technical innovation in graphic communications and related industries.”
“The Ball State student journal received the publication design award for its ambitious and captivating superhero theme,” Workman said. “Other than the grand prize, the publication design is probably the toughest award to win because every chapter has its share of talented designers. In Ball State’s case, the design was executed almost flawlessly.”
Rebeca Mena, a senior chemistry major involved in the IN-LSAMP program, said via email that tying the design of the characters to scientific concepts was important to the collaboration between the scientific and artistic elements of the project.
She said characters like Lady Helix, whose powers are related to DNA, are based on a specific scientific concept. The superheroes in the comic battle the evil Dr. Hazard and learn about the IN-LSAMP students’ research projects in the meantime.
Mena, who was one of the researchers on the project, said the project required six months to research and then six months to design.
“The greatest outcome for me was unity,” Mena said. “We took two worlds, such as science and art, and put them together. Being recognized nationally is an excellent outcome too.”
Workman added that hundreds of hours of student work go into the design and production of these projects. They are presented to the judges during the opening student session at the TAGA Annual Technical Conference where each student group explains the theme, unique technical aspects, challenges, organization and learning that occurred during the project.
“We worked with [TAGA] on how we might arrange that data within the story that they generated, and, of course, what we had to do is make our faculty research professors happy that everything was true to the science in terms of their research,” Lang said. “Every chapter was a particular science student’s research who belonged to our IN-LSAMP program.”
In addition to the recognition by TAGA, the project also won The National Science Foundation (NSF) Experts’ Choice award, which is given to projects exhibited through compelling video, as stated on its website.
“Given the complex chemistry concepts in the articles, the use of scientific superheroes to lead the reader through the articles was a great design theme,” Workman said.
The site also states “the challenge is designed to attract broader interest in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math) and to inform the greater community about best practices and effective strategies for increasing diversity and inclusion, partnership and networking strategies and dissemination approaches for growing the STEM workforce,” something the NSF believed the project achieved.