September 1, 2017, by Brigitte Nerlich

Putting the colour into 3D printing with atoms

A while ago Phil Moriarty and I started a project, namely, commissioning a graphic novel to make public an EPSRC funded project on 3D printing with atoms. I have written two posts about this here and here and Phil has also talked about this here.

Progress has been a bit slow because university bureaucracy put some obstacles in the way and, more joyfully, a baby was born. However, we now have a final script of the novel entitled “Open Day”, written by Shey Hargreaves, and Charli Vince, our new illustrator, is beginning to create the final illustrations for the novel.

In my two previous posts I had begun to tell the story of this graphic novel project, about Shey’s first visit to Phil’s lab and about the script that Shey began to write. This post continues the narrative of the project once the script was finished and Charli had joined us.

Photos and first-hand experience

Charli obviously read Shey’s script and fell in love with the characters. This was a good thing, as she has to bring them to life in her drawings. In order to initiate Charli into the real-life mysteries of the 3D printing with atoms, Phil gave her a guided tour of the lab, as this is the place where the graphic novel’s plot unfolds. Charli was also keen, of course, to understand some of the science that Shey had novellised in her script.

Charli has described her visit of the labs on her own blog, illustrated with plenty of photos she took on the day. She was rather impressed with what she calls the monster of a machine used to make 3D printing happen, but even more so with the ‘wobble stick’. You can read the description of her impressions here and look at the photos. With her permission, I have reproduced one of them here. There is also a little video embedded in her blog post, which is worth wastching.

As Charlie points out: “Without these essential photos and my experience of seeing it all first hand (especially that quick diagram on the blackboard; that thing helped it all make so much sense!) I would’ve had no idea where to start with trying to visually represent some of these concepts and processes.”

If you want to gain some more insights into what is involved in 3D printing with atoms, I recommend you read this nice summary of one of Phil’s talks about the topic over at the ‘Nottingham Science Blog’!

Thumbnails and sketches

Once Charli had immersed herself in the fiction (the script) and the facts (the lab and lab talk), Charli could begin her own journey. She started to sketch out what is called thumbnails of the characters and the dialogue. As she writes in her post “Without giving away any spoilers, the two main characters are Radhika (a scientist) and Kim (a teenager). The story centres around these two as they inadvertently explain the project, its workings, and why it’s important, to the viewer.”

Here are some of the thumbnails. The first is of the two protagonists. Kim is on the right, Radhika is on the left.

And below you have a whole sheet of thumbnails of actions and interactions between the two main characters in the novel.

These thumbnails are just sketches of the dialogue and the action that happens between the two main characters engaged in accidental science engagement when thrown together in the lab.

The magic of colour

The next step in the illustration journey involves going beyond the sketches, polishing them and, most importantly giving some of them a bit of colour. And here Phil and I saw some proper magic. Charli just sent us this image of Radhika and the quantum cat and we were both just bowled over – and so was Shey, of course. We can’t wait to see the rest!!

This brings us to the last step in the journal of this graphic novel. We have to find a publisher! We are approaching a few. But if anybody knows of some good ones, please let us know!

Posted in ScienceScience Communication