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Barkhausen Institut

Science Communication with Science Comics

How can you explain complex research topics in an exciting way with science comics?

The Barkhausen Institut and the Institute of Media and Communication at TU Dresden spent a semester investigating this question in collaboration with the comic artist Veronika Mischitz.

In five small groups, students developed stories and characters about topics suggested by scientists of the Barkhausen Institut. The topics deal with research projects and innovations that present the opportunities and challenges of the digital world.

We use the comics that were created in this collaborative project in our work with teenagers in our Learning Lab. On top of that, we use the comics to evaluate the impact potential of this mediation format.

The project took place in the winter semester 2021/2022.

The secret of the encrypted message

How does the so-called asymmetric encryption work when using messenger apps, and why do we need it?

Messenger apps for personal communication such as WhatsApp, Telegram and the like are nowadays commonplace and an essential tool for young and old alike.

This comic aims to raise awareness among readers that messenger apps can protect their private messages if encrypted securely. The story ventures to illustrate this complex system in an effort to make it easier to understand.

Comment by the scientific supervisor of this student group:

“In order to be able to actively choose to use a service or not, I think it is important to understand what information about you can be extracted and by whom. Understanding the technology behind instant messaging helps to understand what kind of information a message service is able to gather (and what not). In my research I think about the information flow and ways to protect it from data attacks. In fact, on a very different layer it resembles the ideas of the comic topic. The students I worked with were eager to understand the technological mechanics and the resulting security. It came in handy to explain everything in a much more detailed way than could be integrated into a comic, and as a result, the students had a huge knowledge base out of which to carve the comic.”

Dipl.-Ing. Mattis Hasler, Research Associate of the Research Group Scalable Computing Hardware

Operating systems

Operating systems are the heart of every complex electronic device. Without them, nothing works. But are users aware of this?

The aim of the comic is to clarify which security functions the operating system assumes and how important it is for all users. The users' own responsibility in this regard is particularly emphasized. An operating system can only do its job properly if users update it regularly. With a short checklist at the end, the comic points out further measures that all users should consider on their own PCs in order to ensure the security of the system.

Comment by the scientific supervisor of this student group:

"The topic Operating Systems is one of the main research topics the BI is working on. Even though most end users almost never have to deal with them, operating systems are fundamental to the security and functionality of a society that increasingly relies on digital technologies. Therefore, I think it is important to communicate to a broad audience what operating systems are and how our everyday lives rely on their security and performance. Working with the students was a lot of fun and I was pleased how quickly they came up with ideas to translate a relatively abstract topic into images that could be understood by the general public."

Dipl.-Inf. Till Miemietz, Research Associate of the Research Group Composable Operating System

Conquering language barriers

There are many different languages in the world and no person can master them all. Shall a neurochip help us to overcome this barrier?

In everyday life, at work or in business, difficulties sometimes arise because of the multitude of languages. The comic’s heroine thinks about whether a brain-implanted microchip that can translate foreign languages in real-time could be a solution. With this fictional idea, the comic invites readers to form their own opinions about this future technology and the importance of trustworthy sources of information.

Comment by the scientific supervisor of this student group:

„The topic is not directly connected to my research project. I chose this topic because science or new technologies are realized from our needs and dreams. This fictional topic interests me a lot, and it shows how science is connected to humans' social life and is beneficial to society. The collaboration with students for the comic project was quite fun and interesting because I took the opportunity to work with different points of view.”

M.Sc. Merve Tascioglu Yalcinkaya, Research Associate in the Research Group RF Design Enablement

Radio communication between vehicles

How will vehicles communicate with each other in the future and why is it necessary for them to be able to do so?

The comic explains the functions of a new technology that enables vehicles to communicate with each other. This involves communication via the radars (which already exist) in the vehicles. Everyday examples are shown in which real-time data transmission takes place between vehicles and road infrastructure components. The comic presents a technology that is under development and that the scientists of the BI are working on.

Comment by the scientific supervisor of this student group:

“The topic is one of the key research topics at our institute and I am the one mostly involved in it. Personally, I was curious to talk about the applications of this topic and express it for the general public. I was pleasantly surprised to see so much interest and technology-oriented questions. I was also happy that I could formulate the impact of the topic to them that got reflected in the science comic.”

Dr. Padmanava Sen, Group Leader of the Research Group RF Design Enablement

Garden Robot

Due to climate changes and the resulting increased effort required to care for trees, hedges and flowers, gardeners at Pillnitz Palace Park need assistance. How about an automated robot?

The comic presents background information and initial thoughts on one of our research projects, in which we are developing a semi-autonomous robot under the direction of the Staatliche Schlösser, Burgen und Gärten gGmbH to support the gardeners in their work. It shows how the project idea emerged, what tasks the robot could perform, and that it should definitely be climate-friendly itself.

Comment by the scientific supervisor of this student group:

"I personally found it very interesting to see how other people (who are not engineers) perceive the project and what their wishes and priorities are in the subject matter. I was able to apply these gained impressions, in addition to the conversations with the gardeners and visitors of the park, directly to the requirements of the project. The comic itself contributes to an important part of the project: the communication with the citizens, park visitors and other participants, in order to create a broad acceptance with transparency and participation."

Dipl.-Ing. Markus Böhme, Research Associate in the Group CoRoLa - Labor für vernetzte Robotik