The principles of physics are some of the most difficult concepts for instructors to teach. So much information is intangible and theoretical when you are dealing with stars, black holes, quarks and other things you cannot see with the naked eye. This is why Smash! Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider is a welcome graphic novel that explores science in great detail.
Writer Sara Latta and artist Jeff Weigal create a story where teenager Nick visits his cousin Sophie in Geneva, Switzerland. Nick is into comics, but Sophie knows a ton about science. As she explains what goes on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratory, Nick imagines many of the concepts that she explains in comic form. The black and white illustrations are clean, clear, and easy to understand. The concepts being described however are complex and difficult to wrap your head around. This is why explaining the concepts through pictures is so useful.
Sophie goes through the basic concepts of modern physics like quarks, muons, photons, leptons, and bosons. This allows her to explain what the Higgs Boson field and the Hadron Collider are and why they are important and how when you speed these tiny particles up and collide them, new particles are formed. The comic does a good job of explaining how when these collisions occur, we are close to recreating the Big Bang and it allows us to learn a lot about how the universe formed.
The book sets out a challenging task for itself—present complicated theories in a comic book format appropriate for high school students; and the book misses the mark in some ways. The tone is light-hearted throughout, but many of the jokes are juvenile or outdated. The book is marketed for high school students, but everything about the book except for the subject material seems directed at much younger students. The art, the format of the book, the way the kids talk to each other are all more appropriate for 4th and 5th grade sensibilities, not those in high school. Yet the concepts are so difficult and complex, only a high school student dealing with this material would understand them. I suspect a high school student will be turned off by the look and tone of the book. Other nonfiction comics such as the Manga Guide books and Larry Gonnick’s history comics understand their audience better and thus can better connect with their readers. I will likely add this book to my teen non-fiction section, but I’m unsure if it will find an audience there. I did learn a lot by reading it and the art helped, but the tone is off the mark for the intended audience.
Smash! Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider
by Sara Latta
Art by Jeff Weigel
Graphic Universe, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 13-18