Nadia Pym will debut as the new Wasp in Marvel’s upcoming series “The Unstoppable Wasp.” Nadia is a genius with an aptitude for science, but in these new comics, science isn’t reserved for fictional heroes: In each new issue, the series will also spotlight real-life female scientists. Rachel Silverstein, a proboscidean paleontologist — that is, an expert on elephant fossils — is one of two women who will be featured in the inaugural January 4 issue.

In doing so, Silverstein will be bringing to life the dreams of Elsa Charretier, the artist behind the series, and writer Jeremy Whitely, who long wanted to incorporate more real women working in STEM into his work. “UNSTOPPABLE WASP is all about young female super scientists setting out to change the world,” Whitely said in a statement to Marvel. “It made perfect sense to us to highlight female scientists who are really are shaping our future.”

Inverse spoke with Silverstein, a masters student at East Tennessee State University, about her work and what it’s like to be in a Marvel comic.

An illustration of Silverstein by Elsa Charretier.
An illustration of Silverstein by Elsa Charretier.

As a proboscidean paleontologist, you study extinct elephant fossils. What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m about to finish up my master’s with a concentration in paleontology. My thesis project is studying a fossil site in Saltville, Virginia in the Saltville Valley. I’m specifically looking at the mammoth and mastodons there — categorizing them and doing a little taphonomy work, which is figuring out what happened after they died, how did they get where they are, why do they look this way.

How did this opportunity with Marvel come about?

It’s kind of surreal. I’ve been friends with Jeremy Whitley who is the writer for a little while now, and we pretty much came into a friendship in a weird way. I’ve been a big fan of the comic work that he’s done, namely ‘Raven the Pirate Princess.’ I’ve been a huge fan, so we’ve talked a lot, and we’ve become buds. A week or two ago, he sent a message and was like, ‘Hey, me and Elsa [the artist] are thinking about doing this thing — totally on the down low, we don’t know if Marvel will be interested in it, but would you be down for this?’ And I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’

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Every month, these comics are going to feature a different female scientist. How will you and these other scientists be featured?

Every month they are doing a spotlight on two female scientists. Pretty much how it’s presented on the website is how it’s going to be printed in the comics. So, there’s going to be a letter page at the end of every issue and all of the letter pages are going to be the spotlight on the female scientists.

As a fan of indie comics, how does it feel to be in one?

It’s a great feeling. Just to be interviewed was cool enough, but then to have Elsa, whose art I’m a huge fan of, to draw me and now I get to say ‘yeah, that’s me in the comic’ — it’s pretty neat.

Do you have any recommendations for our audience for comics that incorporate science?

Going the indie comic route, there is ‘Bloodstains’ by Linda Sejic which is a pretty big one at the moment. And to go back to Jeremy Whitley, in ‘Raven the Pirate Princess,’ there is one character who is a chemist, and science is woven in there. It’s great to come across science in a comic, especially when it has been done right.

Photos via Elsa Charretier/Marvel, Marvel