When Veronica Berns PhD’14 was nearing the end of her path to a doctorate in chemistry, one thing kept bothering her. It wasn’t her research — five years of work studying crystals and the structure of solids — or the defense of her dissertation. It was that many of the people closest to her had no idea what she was studying.
“My family, my friends — all of the people I knew who didn’t do science for a living — they didn’t really understand what I was doing or why it was cool,” she says. “So I came up with this idea of drawing a comic book to make the language of chemistry easier to understand.”
During the last few months at UW–Madison, Berns started noodling around with pictures and text for Atomic Size Matters, a simplified explanation of her research. She told her adviser, Danny Fredrickson, about it, and he encouraged her to include the comic in her dissertation. She did, much to the pleasure of her review committee.
“People really seemed to like it,” she says. “All of these chemists asked me when they could get a copy and how they could do something similar.”
After graduation, Berns used Kickstarter to raise money so that she could publish Atomic Size Matters. Online donors contributed $14,400, and she took the book through a printing, selling copies through her website, veronicaberns.com.
Today, Berns works as a bench chemist for Honeywell, synthesizing new solids in a lab in Illinois. But she still thinks about creating another comic.
“I’d like to do something on Nobel Prizes,” she says. “Every year, these great discoveries get awards and coverage in the press, but the media often leave out the good parts. They don’t explain what it is about science that makes this work so cool.”
Published in the Spring 2021 issue