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Fine-tooning Science: Juniata Biologist to Create Comic Science Text

(Posted June 26, 2006)

Jay Hosler, associate professor of biology, has written several comic book-series focused on science. He currently is working on a science text starring a new character, Wrinkles the Wonder Brain.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Taking science lessons boldly beyond where few, if any, biologists have gone before, Jay Hosler, associate professor of biology at Juniata College, recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to create a college textbook in the form of a comic book that will presumably replace \"Bam!\" \"Crunch!\" and \"Pow!\" with \"Papilla!\" \"Cilia!\" and \"Olfactory!\" Hosler, who received $46,500 from the NSF to produce a 72-page chapter of a sensory biology textbook over the next two years, will use the finished chapter to test and evaluate its effectiveness as a teaching tool at six or seven land grant universities and small liberal arts colleges. If the evaluations prove positive, Hosler hopes to apply for a larger NSF grant to complete a 250 (plus)-page comic book text. \"The truth is a text book is just words and pictures, and instructors usually teach by telling stories to illustrate their points,\" explains Hosler. \"Comic books put words and pictures together with stories in an illustrated context.\" Hosler\'s idea for a comic book-style biology text did not just pop into his head (imagine a light bulb in a thought balloon) one day during a classroom session. The neurobiologist, who earned a doctorate in biology from the University of Notre Dame, has been cartooning since he was a teen-ager and has published two award-winning comic book series since starting his academic career at Juniata in 2000. Hosler\'s first comic book series, \"Clan Apis,\" followed the life-cycle of a honeybee from birth to death. Hosler\'s neurosensory research, which is based on how honeybees perceive and remember odors, was the inspiration for \"Clan Apis.\" The series was well-received by comic book fans and science writers. Hosler\'s next series, \"The Sandwalk Adventures,\" told the story of Charles Darwin\'s theory of evolution as told through the thoughts of a follicle mite imbedded in Darwin\'s eyebrow. Hosler\'s work on the series received positive reviews from media outlets as varied as The New York Times, Science and The Comics Journal. His work has been covered extensively in the media including mentions by the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, National Public Radio and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Both comic books have been used in secondary schools and college classes to teach principles of biology. A recent story in the Los Angeles Times detailed how science-based comic books by Hosler, Jim Ottovani and others have made inroads in science education in California classrooms. \"Student performance ratings in science in secondary education is dropping at an alarming rate, so clearly something isn\'t working well in the classroom,\" Hosler says. \"We can\'t be afraid to try something radical to change how students learn.\" According to Hosler, the 72-page comic textbook chapter will be roughly equivalent in length to three single-issue comics such as Spiderman or Action. The format will be black-and-white. The NSF funding will cover art supplies, Hosler\'s summer salary and printing costs. The book will be printed by ActiveSynapse, the company that printed his two previous books. The company Web site is www.ActiveSynapse.com. Hosler has already created the character that will drive the stories forward. Wrinkles the Wonder Brain will take readers through the science of the five senses in a series of stories that can stand alone. The style of the comic book art will be inimitably Hosler\'s \"I only have one drawing style, but the tone will be light-hearted and fun,\" he says with a laugh. The textbook will be written in the same way as comic books are constructed. Hosler will write a full script, complete with dialogue. He then draws the story while following the script. \"You sort of edit as you go along by adjusting the images to support the idea,\" he explains. \"It requires much more planning than writing a research paper.\" Hosler says each chapter will be a self-contained story featuring Wrinkles interacting with a variety of characters, human or otherwise. He is planning to have the first section of the textbook ready for evaluation in fall 2007. \"Essentially this grant is giving me a grant to prove that this method of teaching and learning can be effective,\" he says. \"If what I suspect is true, that comic books are a great learning tool, then I would like to submit a larger grant to the NSF to create the entire textbook.\"

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.