Science, Humor, and the Universe: An Interview With Jorge Cham

Jorge is an engineer-turned-cartoonist. He is the bestselling author of the award-winning book We Have No Idea and the co-host of the iHeart Radio show, Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe. He is also the creator of the Emmy-nominated show PBS Kids show, Elinor Wonders Why and the wildly popular comic strip, PHD Comics. Jorge obtained his PhD in robotics from Stanford University and taught at Caltech .

Smore science asked Jorge about his new book, Olivers Great Big Universe, a new illustrated middle-grade series that blends science with narrative.

Olivers Great Big Universe

"Oliver's Great Big Universe" has received rave reviews, with Kirkus describing it as an "irresistibly entertaining introduction to astrophysics." Could you share with us your inspiration behind combining comedy and cosmic information in this book?

As a parent, I noticed that kids loved books with comedy and they also loved science, but there wasn’t anything really that seemed to do both. For me, the comedy is a way to make the science relatable to kids. A lot of ideas about space and the universe can seem really far away to most kids, but if you can point out the similarities between, say, the Big Bang and someone farting in a crowded school cafeteria, suddenly the origin of the Universe seems more approachable and fun.

The book aims to encourage curiosity through science. Could you share some of the key messages or themes that you hope young readers will take away from "Oliver's Great Big Universe"?

Learning about the Universe is fun! The first thing I want kids to take away is that the Universe is awesome, and that learning about it is awesome, too. It’s great to get into the habit of learning stuff and wondering about things, because then your whole world becomes more interesting and fun. The other thing I want readers to take away is that the Universe can be understood, even by little kids. I like to think that Oliver can explain pretty much anything to other kids like him, and if he can do it, then so can you.

Can you tell us about your journey as a scientist and a writer? What challenges did you face along the way?

I trained to be an engineer, and I worked for a long time to be someone who does research for a living. At the same time, I had a hobby of making funny comics and posting them on the internet. One day, I realized that people really seemed to like my comics, so I figured, the most unique thing I can do in the world is to write comics and come up with characters and stories that explain topics in science.


The biggest challenge I faced was to leave my old job behind and switch to a new one making comics and cartoons. It was hard because it meant taking a big risk, and it was scary to think I could fail as a cartoonist and a writer. But I decided that even if I failed, at least I was doing something I was really passionate about.

Humor plays a significant role in your storytelling. How do you strike a balance between educational content and comedic elements to create an enjoyable reading experience for children?

I just try to make it as much fun as possible. Some kids will be really into the story, and some kids will be really into the educational content. I figure if I can write a story that keeps both of those kids engaged, then I struck a good balance.

Who or what serves as your inspiration when it comes to writing children's STEM books? Are there any authors, scientists, or role models who have influenced your work?

I have a lot of influences in my life from all kinds of things, from television and movies to comic books and animation. Mostly, I’m inspired by authors and creators who try new things and who work hard to make sure it’s done right. I think it’s important to have a wide range of interests. Sometimes it’s in making unexpected connections that you find a way to make something new.

Share with us the best advice you have ever received, whether related to your writing career or personal life. Additionally, what advice would you like to give our young readers who are interested in STEM and writing?

The best advice I got about figuring out what you want to do with your life is to not let other people define what success means for you. Sometimes it’s easy to look around and think there are only certain ways to be successful, but the best success is to be happy with what you do. The ideal job or career for you might be something that hasn’t been invented yet, or that nobody has done before.


Don’t miss out on an exclusive excerpt from the book in the Winter issue of Smore!


You can grab a copy of the book starting from September 26th! 




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