Meet Captain Quark

We're introducing explanatory cartoon strips to the weekly magazine. The idea is to use visual storytelling to unravel a complex topic.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram/AP/File
A young student in quantum physics, Carson Huey-You, age 11, examines models of atoms at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.

Quantum physics probably isn’t your normal topic of conversation. It isn’t mine, either. Every time I find somebody asking me about the Higgs ­boson at dinner parties, I give them the same Renaissance-man response: Did he play second or third base for the Mets? 

But we should have at least a nodding acquaintance with some of the basic principles of quantum physics. The field, after all, has vast real-world applications, from microchips and supercomputers to lasers and electron microscopes. Plants rely on quantum effects when they photosynthesize. Even the humble light switch could never work without something called quantum tunneling.

The Monitor is debuting an occasional feature this week that we hope provides a few insights into this enigmatic field. It is an explanatory cartoon strip. Call it Stephen Hawking meets Marvel Comics. The idea is to use visual storytelling to unravel a complex topic. We hope to explore other subjects in the future. 

The strip, a deft collaboration between Jake Turcotte, the Monitor’s director of graphics and multimedia, and staff writer Eoin O’Carroll, takes the reader through a narrative about a few core ideas in the field. As Jake puts it with characteristic humility: “Hopefully, it will make a dense and impenetrable subject more comprehensible.”

It does.

Here are some other items you’ll want to read in this issue: Richard Mertens has written a piece out of Chicago about a woman trying to bridge racial divides with her camera. Tonika Johnson takes photographs documenting segregation in the city and then uses them to spur community discussions about it. Her Folded Map project has inspired a series of workshops, a play, and may be used in Chicago schools. 

This week’s cover story looks at another area where thought is shifting. For years, after mass shootings, mental health experts have worked with survivors to help them recover. Often the best they could do was help survivors put the incidents behind them and move on. 

Now they are finding something else: The survivors can actually grow after such cataclysms. With the help of counseling, people often lead deeper and more purposeful lives. The development is an outgrowth of the large number of survivors of mass shootings and soldiers returning from war who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma experts and survivors of mass shootings from Columbine to Virginia Beach, Virginia, tell writers Harry Bruinius and Patrik Jonsson moving stories of forging deeper relationships. 

Rounding out this week’s magazine is a series of book reviews on democracy and critic Peter Rainer reviewing movies that deal with the moon on the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic landing. We’ll have more to say about the moon landing in the July 22 cover story. 

In the meantime, let’s hope Marvel makes a movie out of Jake and Eoin’s comic strip. I, for one, would like to see Robert Downey Jr. play Captain Quark.

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