Whimsical tale of adventurous atoms written for elementary students by physics professors now published as an e-book

“As you read this book, it is very important that you read it as a story and not a science book,” wrote physics professors Cindy Schwarz and Jill Linz in the preface to their 2009 book Adventures in Atomville: The Macroscope, a physics-inspired fiction for grade 3-6 readers. Now this fanciful story centered on colorful young friends Livvie, an oxygen atom, and Niles, a nitrogen atom, is gaining the interactive and graphic benefits of e-book publishing through new iBook and Kindle editions.

Among the powerful features of the iBook version are a video and interactive questions accessible throughout the book. In addition, the text can be played aloud and the reader can seek definitions to unfamiliar words. The color illustrations add yet another scientific depth to the story, with each atomic character’s color matched to  its real world emission spectra. The iBook edition is also readable on an Apple computer running the new OS X Mavericks operating system. 


While the Kindle version of Adventures in Atomville is less interactive it still maintains the full color illustrations seen in the iBook version. Both the iBook and Kindle editions are currently available in English, with Spanish versions expected by the end of 2013.


“We created the original book to be a fun read, and we’re excited about how elementary students and their teachers have responded,” said Cindy Schwarz, chair of the Vassar College physics department. “The interactive features of an e-book are a great addition for increasing a young person’s engagement with our story and characters.”

At the same time, the unconventional tale that subtly introduces young learners to the world of atomic particles remains the most engaging aspect of Adventures in Atomville. Both authors acknowledge that a beloved literary wizard initially motivated their storytelling, which they call a new type of "science" fiction. "We decided to go for a popular media approach after learning that students of this age are more inclined to learn about characters like Harry Potter and his magic," they said.

Like protagonists Livvie and Niles, characters such as The Wise Old Proton, Lord Neon, and the Royal Benzenes emulate charged particles and elements in the periodic table. The glowing full-color illustrations of the young protagonists and their friends surprisingly add another scientific touch to the book: Niles’ and Livvie’s colors match the emission spectrum of their associated oxygen and nitrogen atoms (respectively a shade of violet, and a blend of orange and green).

"If children come away from the book with certain physics terms floating around in their minds for later on, then great," said Jill Linz, a senior teaching associate at Skidmore College, in Saratoga, NY. "But our goal was not necessarily to teach atomic physics to children. It is a story plain and simple."

Nevertheless, real world science is woven throughout the story, and Schwarz and Linz explained that, "Less than 1% of our population is exposed to this kind of material."


Adventures in Atomville: The Macroscope tells the story of how Livvie and Niles accidentally invent a "macroscope" which allows them to see into the Outer World of human beings. Their journey begins when they rescue Penelope (The Wise Old Proton) and must find a way to get her back to her home in New Clayon. Other characters include Ollie and Odetta, the oxygen twins, Ms. Na, a sodium atom and teacher, and Ol' Louie, a lead atom who is so large and immovable that the other atoms call him a tree.

Jill Linz has been developing versions of the Adventures in Atomville characters for over twenty years, as tools for teaching physics to liberal arts students at Skidmore. Cindy Schwarz proved to be a perfect partner for the book. She earlier edited Tales from the Subatomic Zoo, a compilation of short stories and poems with subatomic particles as the main characters, all written by Vassar students in Schwarz's longtime physics course for non-science majors. The co-authors chose Niles to narrate their story on the advice of Nancy Willard, who is both a winner of Newbury and Caldecott awards for her children's literature, as well as an emeritus English lecturer at Vassar.

Warren Gregory contributed the fanciful black and white illustrations to the text, and Hyperspective Studios of Honolulu designed the book’s inventive cover illustration. The co-authors also partnered with the State of Hawaii's Creativity Academies, a standards-based curriculum initiative that fuses arts, science and technology to support STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The initiative only uses Adventures in Atomville to support the Creativity Academies program, it also worked with Kapiolani Community College's New Media Arts program to develop the book’s website and related animation.


Adventures in Atomville: The Macroscope

Written by Jill Linz and Cindy Schwarz

Illustrated by Warren Gregory

E-book edition (2013)

n  iBook ($8.99)

  • Readable on all Apple devices

n  Kindle ($4.99)

Print edition (2009)

96 pages



Cindy Schwarz is a professor of physics at Vassar College. She has a Ph.D. in experimental particle physics from Yale University. She has authored several books and one multimedia CD- ROM. Her first book, A Tour of the Subatomic Zoo, won the American Library Association Award for Outstanding Academic Book and is now out in a second edition. She also edited and published Tales from the Subatomic Zoo, a collection of short stories and poems written by her Vassar students where subatomic particles are the characters. Her passion is making physics accessible and interesting to all.

Jill Linz received her master’s degree in theoretical physics from RPI in 1991 and has been a member of the physics faculty at Skidmore College since 1992. Her own experiences have been non-traditional, as she entered the field of physics with a background in classical music. In the belief that physics education should begin as early as possible, she created the Physics Outreach Project in 2000. This project has brought physics to elementary age students and culminated with the production of two broadcast quality videos

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, December 3, 2013