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The Uncanny Physics of Superhero Comic Books

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 4:30pm
Location: 
Hewlett Teaching Center, Room 201
James Kakalios
University of Minnesota
 
 
In 2001 I created a Freshman Seminar class at the University of Minnesota entitled: "Everything I Know About Science I Learned from Reading Comic Books." This is a real physics class, that covers topics from Isaac Newton to the transistor, but there’s not an inclined plane or pulley in sight.  Rather, ALL the examples come from superhero comic books, and as much as possible, those cases where the superheroes get their physics right!
 
This class drew a great deal of media attention in 2002 with the release of the first Spider-Man film, and led to my writing a popular science book THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES. My talk will show how superhero comic books can be used to illustrate fundamental physics principles.  For example, was it “the fall” or “the webbing” that killed Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s girlfriend in the classic Amazing Spider-Man # 121?  How does Kitty Pryde from the X-Men comics and movies use quantum mechanics to walk through walls?  Why does the Flash become heavier as he tries to run at the speed of light? All this, and the answers to such important real life questions as the chemical composition of Captain America’s shield, and who is faster: Superman or the Flash? will be discussed.  In my presentation I will describe the various ways that students’ interest in these four-color adventurers can be leveraged to present real science in an accessible way.  If superheroes can spark an interest in science in students and the general public – well, it wouldn’t be the first time these heroes have saved the day!