While on the set of Mythbusters: The Search, NC State alumna Tamara Robertson immediately bonded with fellow contestant, Tracy Fanara. Both were female engineers who wanted to inspire people to become passionate about science, especially teenagers. But how do you get young people excited to learn? The answer: create a comic book, Seekers of Science. It’s about two citizen scientists – Robertson and Fanara – becoming everyday superheroes to solve real-world problems. In the seekers’ fourth adventure, they team up with another female engineer, ISE’s Karen Chen, to solve their greatest mystery yet.
All good superhero adventures begin with a flashback to an origin story, and this one is no different. A couple of years ago, Robertson returned to NC State, looking for faculty members to join one of her outreach events at the NC Bull City Comicon. Chen was an obvious choice for Robertson’s “Let’s Talk Superhero Science with Tamara Robertson and Friends” panel. Her research focuses on using advanced technologies like augmented and virtual reality. “Not to mention that I have always wanted to be on the stage at a Comicon,” confided Chen. “Plus, I could go to Comicon for free.”
The panel was such a success that Chen joined Robertson again the following year, this time at the NC Comicon in Raleigh. It was here that Robertson mentioned the Seekers of Science comic book. “This sparked the discussion on featuring my lab and research topics in one of the issues in the science comics,” Chen said. Robertson was eager to let her team know about Chen’s work. Within each issue, readers see Robertson and Fanara join forces with teams of scientists, experts and citizen scientists in the field. Together they work to overcome an actual world problem.
Working with Chen would promote her great work and showcase the cool world of computer science and technology. “Her excitement for her work and her usage of a new age technology to help people heal was something that I really found incredible,” Robertson explained. The Seekers of Science team agreed that featuring Chen was a great idea. “We are big on our fandoms, and anytime we can loop those in with an issue we get quite excited,” Robertson said. “So, being big fans of Tron and the Matrix, having a number of connections in the computer science field and having the perfect expert in Dr. Chen, our issue almost wrote itself.”
Comic Books, not Textbooks
Science-based comic books can show science and engineering in fun and exciting ways. This approach makes them less intimidating. “If reading textbooks seem mundane, then perhaps reading a book with a lot of pictures and a little bit of text will be more fun,” Chen said. The series reveals that science doesn’t have to be hard, nerdy and only for guys. “I want to change this misconception and promote STEM to more people, especially female students,” Chen explained. “Moreover, my lab and research featured in the comic book can help general readers better understand the research resources.” It can also help readers and potential students understand what ISE’s do. “In this comic book, the virtual environment is like a system,” Chen described. “To solve the crisis that my lab faces in the comic book, Tamara and her partner have to battle their way through the entire virtual environment system, examine the interdependencies of different components of the virtual environment, and then finally narrow it down to the core problem.” The comic book expertly portrays ISE’s core, understanding how different parts work together and affect one another. “Pursuing a degree or having an interest in STEM is a lot of fun, rewarding and impactful,” Chen said. “We should confront the challenges and look forward to the moment we could say, ‘Ah, I am so glad that I am a student who can apply STEM knowledge and solve a challenging problem, and better the lives of everyone.'”
About Seekers of Science
The Seekers of Science team has donated 5,000+ issues nationally and do not plan on stopping anytime soon. If you would like to follow their adventures, you can do so on Instagram, @sos.comicbook, and online at seekersofscience.com. Their first Trade Paperback includes four of the first issues, available on Amazon.