Athena and the Tortoise: The Past, Present and Future of Measuring Time

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

In Summer 2019 I teamed up with researcher Dr Markus Gellesch to create a comic which would bring research conducted by the UK National Hub for Sensors and Metrology to a wider audience through a fun, accessible medium. This comic ultimately became Athena and the Tortoise: The Past, Present and Future of Measuring Time.

Although the comic was primarily pitched at older children and younger teenagers (perhaps age 10-15), in reality it has a much wider audience engagement, providing interest to undergraduates and investors in quantum technology.

I personally had three main goals with the project:

Robust science

As a non-expert who was synthesising cutting-edge research, I found that responding to my own increasing understanding throughout the project helped me to structure the learning journey within the comic.

One challenge was knowing when to scaffold complex topics. Do electrons orbit? Do they oscillate? Do they have a temperature? And if they don’t, is it ever right to say that they do as a stepping stone to wider understanding?

I was very gratified to hear from doctoral researchers who said that the comic solidified their own knowledge and gave them simplified language enable them to explain their work to others.

A story

Graphic science, technology and medicine is increasingly popular online, often telling tales of great discoveries and personal accounts. Faced with a subject area that initially felt quite abstract to me, I felt that it would be easy to fall into the trap of creating something which felt like an essay in comics form.

I realised that to keep its reader’s attention, the comic needed the essence of a story - a problem that needed solving, characters who would develop and grow closer to each other and a satisfying conclusion. The eponymous tortoise in the comic acts as a reader surrogate, gaining curiosity as he discovers that he doesn't know as much as he thinks he does.

Funny bits

I set out with the grand aim of having at least one vaguely funny thing on each page. Did I

manage it? You’ll have to read it to see what you think! There's a joke about microwaves which I think is particularly silly...


Athena and the Tortoise was launched at the National Quantum Technologies Showcase 2019 in London and it was incredibly exciting to see how well it was received by a wide readership!

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