Chemistry Ph.D. Student Turned Her Thesis Into a Comic Book

Mention the word “quasicrystals” and everyone will immediately know what you’re talking about, right? Probably not. University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Ph.D. student Veronica Berns recognized this conundrum when she began working on her thesis. Berns wanted to share her work with friends and family, but she struggled to find an accessible way to do so. Eventually, she decided that the best way to explain these divergent crystals was to diverge from the normal thesis form herself– and thus her chemistry comic book, Atomic Size Matters, was born. 

Berns’s family has a history of doodling and sharing comics, so what better way for her to involve her parents than with a medium with which they were all comfortable? At her graduation last year she surprised her parents with a comic book filled with cartoons, humor, and simple comparisons to describe her complex work. She purposely focused more on doodles than polished illustrations, telling the Associated Press that she “wanted it to be like I’m explaining [it] on the back of an envelope.” Atomic Size Matters was a big hit, and not just with Berns’s family.

Berns’s adviser, Danny Fredrickson, said that she was the first of his students to construct her thesis in an artistic way. In response to the question, “How would you communicate this to someone that doesn’t do science?,” he replied, “This. This is it!” Berns thought that perhaps others would be interested in her comic as well, and started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to print a small batch of the books. Berns raised over $14,000, more than twice what she had asked for, which helped her realize the vital role that her book could play in the learning process. “It’s really important, now more than ever, to talk about science in an accessible way,” she noted. 


Berns now works as a chemist in Chicago, but she still finds time for doodling. Her latest project is a blog explaining the work of Nobel Prize winning scientists, which can be found on her website, VeronicaBerns.com.

[via The Big Story]

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
DecorChic/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

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The Oldest Schools in Each Country

Schools across the globe have been around for centuries.
Schools across the globe have been around for centuries.
Online Schools Report

There's something about a school or university with a long history that amplifies its reputation. Well-established institutions of higher learning feel like they have centuries of information to impart—and sometimes, they do.

The online university consultants at Online Schools Report recently compiled data looking at the oldest schools and universities still in operation in every country. You might be surprised how far back some of these schools go. (Click on the maps to see them in full size.)



The oldest is Shishi High School in China, which was established around 141 BCE. England’s King’s School Canterbury opened in 597 AD. Tunisia’s Université Zitouna existed in 737 AD, while Germany’s Gymnasium Paulinum debuted in 797 AD.

Overall, Europe has 19 schools that are more than 500 years old and Africa has four universities that are over 1000 years old.


In North America, the Collegiate School in New York opened its doors in 1638, when New York was still known as New Amsterdam. (The name of the state changed in 1664.)


In Europe, the University of Bologna, which was established in 1088, might have been the first to use universitas, or university, to refer to teachers and scholars.


In Africa, there’s been some debate over whether the Université Zitouna is the world’s oldest university, but only because it was reformed and renamed in the 20th century, interrupting the concept of oldest continuously operating institution.

To view maps for South America and Asia, head over to Online Schools Report.