ASU alum publishes graphic novel on computer generated images, machine learning

June 10, 2021

Jennifer Weiler, an Arizona State University media arts and sciences postdoctoral alumna and current faculty associate, is releasing a comic book this summer that teaches users how to use code to make computer-generated images. 

Weiler, who was influenced by her work at ASU as a student in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, has been working intensely over the last year to create and publish her first comic book, “Creating with Code: A Fun Exploration of Computer-Generated Images and Machine Learning.” She said she made the comic to educate people about how to effectively utilize coding to construct stylistic computer-generated images and apply methodologies of machine learning in the process.  Image of  two cartoons looking at each other Cover image from "Creating with Code: A Fun Exploration of Computer-Generated Images and Machine Learning."

Weiler designed “Creating with Code” in a manner that focuses on learning through visual narration and imagery in a fun way. She plans to release it in digital format on Amazon on June 15, with a print release planned in the next few months. 

Question: Can you explain a bit more about the work during your PhD that helped influence this book?

Answer: While pursuing my doctorate in media arts and sciences, I spent a lot of time exploring different ways to create images using computer programming. Essentially, by writing code, it’s possible to give the computer a set of instructions that create different types of images. I have continued to expand my knowledge since graduation, and I have focused on machine learning (computer algorithms that can improve through experience) and how it can be used to generate images. Learning about new approaches and technology is something I enjoy immensely, and I want to introduce more people to these topics.

Q: Would you be able to provide a short description about this comic?

A:Creating with Code: A Fun Exploration of Computer-Generated Images and Machine Learning” provides a comprehensive introduction to generating artistic images using the latest computer programming techniques. It explores the mechanisms, advantages and limitations of emerging technology. I avoided just creating a list of coding examples because I don’t want the book to be a how-to follow guide. Rather, I wanted to explain the underlying concepts and approaches that allow a series of instructions to create images, as well as some of the challenges that may be faced when trying to get the results you want.

Q: What made you want to create a graphic novel rather than a standard book? 

A: The material covered in this book is all about images: what kind of images can be generated and what the results can look like. And, to me, it was obvious that kind of information would best be conveyed in a primarily visual medium. In addition, I’m a big believer in conveying information in an entertaining and efficient way. I feel it would be a disservice to the audience to spend paragraphs trying to explain a concept that can be immediately understood with a sentence and an image.

Excerpt from Weiler's new comic

Excerpt from Weiler's comic.

Q: How long did it take you to create the comic? 

A: I first had the idea to create “Creating with Code” back in the summer of 2020. Like many of us, I was spending a lot of time at home and wanted to focus on something fun and productive. Writing and drawing took about five months, but honestly a lot of time before that went into deciding what I wanted to talk about, because there is so much material in this field that it was hard to narrow it down. 

Q: What is your hope with this comic book? 

A: I want to introduce the concept of generating images with computer programming to people who otherwise wouldn’t have given this topic another thought, and to present it in a way that is not overly technical and won’t require a lot of time to understand. I find this field super fascinating, and I want to share that excitement and promise with as many people as possible.

Back when I was in high school, hardly anyone was learning about computer programming. I can’t help but wonder if media like this could help drive enthusiastic new students into technology-focused creative fields when entering into college and beyond.

Q: Do you have any other future comic books in mind?

A:  I’ve absolutely been thinking about what other topics I would like to write about. Art and technology used in makerspaces — another area I explored in my PhD work — comes to mind, but I haven’t made any decisions yet!

Q: Is there any additional information you would like to share?

A: I will be releasing “Creating with Code” in digital format on Amazon on June 15, with a print release planned in the next few months. For anyone interested in updates, I have a mailing list you can join by reaching out to me at I would be delighted to hear what people think of the book!

Megan Patzem

Multimedia specialist, School of Arts, Media and Engineering


Large-scale brain epigenetics study provides new insights into dementia

June 10, 2021

The largest study of its kind has unveiled new insights into how genes are regulated in dementia, including discovering 84 new genes linked to the disease.

Researchers from the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center (NDRC) join international colleagues, led by the University of Exeter, to investigate the molecular underpinnings of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.   Diego Mastroeni, a contributor to the new study published in Nature Communications, is a researcher in the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center. Download Full Image

The collaboration combined and analysed data across six different studies, in a meta-analysis published in Nature Communications. These studies had used brain samples from people who had died with Alzheimer’s disease.

“This manuscript is the first meta-analyses of Alzheimer’s disease pathology, highlighting numerous cortical regions in nearly 1,500 subjects,” said Diego Mastroeni, a researcher at the NDRC and collaborator on the new study. “This is an invaluable resource and will be fundamental in understanding underlying mechanisms that regulate which genes are poised for expression or which genes are not.”

Fellow NDRC researchers Danielle Brokaw and Paul Coleman also contributed to the paper.

The project, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society and the Medical Research Council and supported by the National Institutes for Health, looked at an epigenetic mark called DNA methylation at nearly half a million sites in the genome.

Epigenetic processes control the extent to which genes are switched on and off, allowing for fine-tuned gene expression across the different cell types and tissues that make up the human body. Importantly, unlike the genes themselves, which remain stable throughout life, epigenetic processes that modify the behaviour of genes can be influenced by environmental factors, making them potentially reversible and a possible route to new treatments.

The study looked at epigenetic patterns across the genome, in a number of different regions of the brain. The team then related the amount of DNA methylation to the quantity of neurofibrillary tangles within the brain — an important hallmark of the severity of Alzheimer’s disease.

The team explored various regions of the brain that were selectively affected in Alzheimer’s disease before looking for common changes across these cortical regions. They identified 220 sites in the genome, including 84 new genes, which showed different levels of DNA methylation in the cortex in individuals with more severe Alzheimer’s disease, which weren’t seen in another area of the brain, called the cerebellum.

The research demonstrates that a subset of 110 of these affected sites, found in two independent datasets, could be used to distinguish whether a brain sample had high or low levels of disease, with more than 70% accuracy. This suggests that epigenetic changes in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease are very consistent.

Professor Katie Lunnon, of the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: “Our study is the largest of its kind, giving important insights into genomic areas that could one day provide the key to new treatments. The next step for this work is to explore whether these epigenetic changes lead to measurable changes in the levels of genes and proteins being expressed. This will then allow us to explore whether we could repurpose existing drugs that are known to alter the expression levels of these genes and proteins, to effectively treat dementia.”

The study included a number of international collaborators from the U.S. (Columbia University and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Rush University Center in Chicago, Arizona State University), and Europe (Maastricht University in Netherlands, University of Saardland, Germany).

“This manuscript is a testament of the kind of collaborative efforts we at ASU and the NDRC are so proud of,” Mastroeni said. “Reaching out across the globe to get involved in fantastic work like this is what we need to do if we are to ever find a cure.”  

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU