Using comics to teach science is not a new concept. Even if a person had never picked up a comic in their life, it was likely that they had at least read a storybook or textbook with comic-like elements that were meant to liven up the discussion of genetics or geology or whatever else was on the curriculum at the time. One notable example are the Magic School Bus books, a series which featured the wacky adventures of Mrs. Frizzle and her class venturing to such exotic locations as the Solar System, Inside the Earth, and Inside the Human Body. As the scientific lesson was explained in the main narrative, there was often smaller, more humorous things taking place in the artwork and dialogue bubbles above the character’s heads.
Even though the Magic School Bus franchise eventually became very commercial with spinoff series and a TV show, the lesson of using comics to teach science was not lost on the scientific community at least, and several universities have used comics to reach out to kids and help them understand the world around them, as well as what role university laboratories play.
First up we have an entire series of manga published by the Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory (STEL) at Nagoya University. Using comics to teach is nothing new in manga-crazy Japan, but to their credit many of the booklets have been translated into English so that students outside of Japan can stand to benefit from this light-hearted approach to potentially tricky subjects such as the geomagnetic field or the solar wind.
Each booklet follows the adventures of cute blue-haired Mol and her little robotic dog Mirubo. She is described as a “science-lover” and actively seeks out different phenomenona, which are then explained to her by a series of mysterious and convenient senseis who are only happy to tell her and Mirubo everything they need to know about the phenomenon—including the negative effects:
The comics are created by Hayanon, a mangaka who graduated from the Department of Physics of Ryukyu and does a lot of work illustrating both science comics and promotional comics for magazines and websites.
On the other side of the world we have the Center for Space Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, who have created a special comic to explain the Coupled Ion Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI), a series of plasma sensors in the upper atmosphere c0-funded by NASA and the US Air Force.
In a few parallels to the Mol comics, the main character of these comics is also a young girl with an android dog. Except the girl is also an android, and flies through space… counting space dogs.
The counting of space dogs is a metaphor for what the real CINDI does, which is counting neutral and positive atoms (neutrals and ions) in orbit so that scientists on the ground can predict when the the interaction of these atoms will cause satellite interference. It’s a trickier subject than the simple phenomena that the STEL comics explain, but it does its best to explain the actual concepts logically and clearly.
The CINDI comic itself has a slight manga-influence to the character designs, but the title page of the comic uses an art noveau design. And while the STEL comics are available in Japanese and English, the CINDI comic is available in English and Spanish.