How A Comic Book Teaches Science Through Science Fiction

Physicists are using comic books to garner interest in science at Comic-Con.

Half of the phrase science-fiction is science. However, at an event bursting at the seams with science-fiction, it can be hard to find some actual science. In the sea of booths in the ginormous exhibit hall at San Diego Comic-Con, there is one booth championing this cause, and using tools familiar to Comic-Con goers to garner interest in science and physics, and careers in those fields.

The American Physical Society (APS) has had a presence at Comic-Con for several years. The APS is a non-profit physics society with over 55,000 members. Besides providing outlets for scientists to publish papers and hold meetings, they also work to educate the public on the importance of science and physics.

At their website, APS also seeks to “communicate the excitement and importance of physics to everyone.” One way they do that is with comic books. On their website, you can download and read them, or you can purchase hard copies. If you were lucky enough to visit their booth at Comic-Con, you could pick up free copies, and they were even giving out free LED lights and attaching them to lanyards.

Their main comic book is called Spectra. The protagonist, Lucy, is a middle schooler whose parents are laser scientists. Somehow, Lucy obtained the powers of a laser beam, so she created a superhero alter ego, Spectra, to use her power for good.

Ad – content continues below

The comic book is authored by Rebecca Thompson, who holds a Ph.D. in physics and is also the head of public outreach for APS. She also mysteriously looks a lot like a grownup version of Lucy in the comic book. Thompson dresses up as Spectra at Comic-Con. According to Thompson, Spectra has grown a fan base at Comic-Con.

“Spectra holds her own,” Thompson says. “There are plenty of fans of Iron Man, Rick and Morty, and Black Panther, but Spectra has her following too. We have people coming to our booth year after year to make sure they have the complete collection.”

Another cool aspect of the Spectra comic books is that they encourage kids to participate in hands-on science experiments. They work as a companion piece to APS PhysicsQuest, a program that provides free activity kits to 6th to 9th graders and physical science teachers.

“All the associated experiments are online, including lists of materials,” says Thomson. “Or, like a lot of kids and adults, you can enjoy Spectra’s adventures whether or not you do the experiments. Be careful though, you still might learn some physics.”

At their booth, APS also provided science all-age coloring books and a comic book about Nikola Tesla. Tesla is a bit of a science hero these days. He is often portrayed as the underdog scientific genius whose mind is too full of science to understand the business world, which causes his work to be taken advantage of. The APS comic book portrays this as well, illustrating Tesla’s struggle to promote AC electricity competing with the likes of Thomas Edison and other unscrupulous business moguls.

We would not have science-fiction if it were not for science. Not just because the word makes up half of the phrase, but also because scientific advancement created the genre of imagining what worlds could exist given our scientific discoveries and the potential for the future science may one day provide. However, we need people doing science to get there, and APS is doing their best to encourage Comic-Con goers young and old to take a peek into this wondrous world. 

Ad – content continues below