Comic superheroes is a curious topic to cover here, but relevant with the development of Marvel’s new comic series of STEAM Variants. Five of Marvel’s heroes are stepping to into a new role and tackling new challenges in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (hence STEAM, sometimes referred to as STEM, which lacks the art component) with the intent of inspire young readers to explore their passions in those disciplines.
“We plan to continue to motivate our fans to explore their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math and present these disciplines through some of our favorite young heroes who are doing just that — following their dreams and preparing for the challenges that await them ahead,” David Gabriel, Senior VP for Sales & Marketing of Marvel Comics said in a statement.
Available in November, the covers are alternative prints of several titles. Famous heroes such as the Hulk and Spiderman make appearances. So do lesser-knowns Gwenpool — an amalgam of Spiderman’s Gwen Stacy and meta-jokester Deadpool — and kid genius Moongirl.
Media can be highly influential in shaping people’s aspirations, so developing a media geared for students and kids that emphasizes these disciplines can help encourage creative solutions for environmental problems that younger generations will undoubtedly have to face in their future. However, Marvel is not alone in underlining science in pop culture.
Last year, the National Science Foundation partnered with with the National Nanotechnology Initiative to challenge high school-aged students to consider nanotechnology by creating a superhero who’d express what the field could accomplish. Entrants ended up thinking of ways nanotechnology could be used to fight cancer and eradicate waste.
And Jacob Blickenstaff, a program director at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, regularly incorporates pop culture in his approach. Writing a column for the National Science Teachers Association, he regularly points to lesson plans teachers can extract from popular entertainment, even when science is apparently absent.
Unsurprisingly, drawing from the artistic imagination to spur kids into scientific thought is a view that resonates with proponents of the STEAM curriculum, which adds the arts to the well-promoted STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
“How do you solve these problems we’re going to have in the future like clean water and climate change? It requires a lot of imagination and creative thinking to deal with these global challenges,” says Babette Alina, director of policy for the Rhode Island School of Design.
The art and design college has been working to integrate science within its curriculum, having students enroll in courses that direct their creative skills toward the sciences and seeking grants to fund interdisciplinary programs.
As vital as ensuring potable water or rolling back the effects of climate change may be, they lack the whizz-bang factor that enables Captain America to wield his shield or Spiderman to use arachnid-like powers to catch bad guys.
Nonetheless, Paul Zehr, a pop culture blogger for Phsychology Today, argues is that what comics and pop culture can do is allow imaginations to run unconstrained, sometimes letting them predict technological advances before they happen, like Star Trek‘s communicators — or an example Zehr points to from Iron Man. A comic from the early 1990s depicted schematics for Tony Stark’s titular suit. Then in the 2000s, Zehr found an academic article on brain and machine interface – and it bore a striking resemblance.
I agree with Zehr’s argument and firmly believe that interdisciplinary and artistic strategies to appeal young generations to STEAM can only benefit us as a we progress in our sustainable movement.