Could Turning Marie Curie Into a Superhero Get Kids Hooked on Science?

The animated series ‘Super Science Friends’ engages viewers with plenty of action and fantasy.
(Photo: 'Super Science Friends'/YouTube)
Jan 31, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It doesn’t take a viewing of the infamous “Anyone? Anyone?” scene from Ferris Bueller Day’s Off to know that teachers who lecture tend to put students to sleep. But with 1 million STEM workers needed over the next decade, finding creative ways to get kids hooked on studying science and math has become a national priority.

That’s where Super Science Friends, an animated series that casts scientists such as Nikolai Tesla, Thomas Edison, and Marie Curie as superheroes who are out to save the world, could help.

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“I was not a terrific science and math student, particularly in high school. It just didn’t interest me all that much. It wasn’t until I found out just how weird some scientists were that I really started to get interested,” says Brett Jubinville, the Canadian creator of Super Science Friends. The first video in the series, “Episode 1: The Phantom Premise,” was released last fall. Now Jubinville and his team of animators at Tinman Creative Studios in Toronto hope to raise funds to cover digital animation costs for more videos in the series.

“We’ve seen some articles and responses from educators speaking about how our show is a good way to get kids interested in science,” Jubinville says. “We certainly know of animation instructors who have shown the show in their college classes too.”

(Photo: 'Super Science Friends'/YouTube)

“The Phantom Premise” has been viewed nearly 1 million times across YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook, and Jubinville admits he is still a little surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to it. “One of the things that is still shocking to me is how many people were willing to spend time translating the show into their native language. To date I’ve received subtitles in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Russian, Italian, Polish, German, and Ukrainian,” he says. “And while I’d love to take credit for that kind of passion, I think it really comes from the momentum we’ve seen recently whereby science is really making its way into the mainstream of our popular culture. We’ve got films about physicists winning Oscars and scientists with their own talk shows. Science is becoming cool.”

(Photo: 'Super Science Friends'/YouTube)

Indeed, it seems easy for viewers of all ages to get hooked on a series that lets Marie Curie rage against sexism and zap dirty dishes with her superpowers. But as entertaining as a fictional account of Curie using her talents against Nobel Prize–stealing Nazis seems, Jubinville cautions that the videos can’t be the be-all and end-all of science education in schools.

“I think from a practical ‘show this episode to kids and they’ll learn something about science’ view it probably has its limitations because of how silly and caricatured we’ve made it. There are definitely a lot of ideas in the show that we pull from real life, but it’s very much a work of fiction,” Jubinville says.

(Photo: 'Super Science Friends'/YouTube)

Jubinville and his team are currently penning the scripts for the next two episodes, which will delve into the real-life rivalries of Tesla and Edison and Freud and Jung. In the meantime, he’s celebrating the growing number of engaging non-lecture-based resources that teachers can use in the classroom. Jubinville recommends Cosmos—both the new and Carl Sagan versionsa YouTube series called “Crash Course,” and the digital resources offered by TedEd. “And if a teacher decides to throw Super Science Friends into the mix for some comedy relief, then that would be OK with me,” he says.