program_wb_i - page 77

July 26–30, 2014
Monday afternoon
Plenary: The Uncanny Physics of
Superhero Comic Books
Location: Northrop Auditorium
Date: Monday, July 28
Time: 7:30–8:30 p.m.
Presider: Mary Mogge
Be sure to
check out the
entries in the
Sunday, 8–10 p.m.
Monday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Tuesday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Coffman – Great Hall Annex
James Kakalios
James Kakalios, Taylor Distinguished Professor, University of Minnesota, School of Physics and Astronomy
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 super-
hero 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 Superheros
. 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!
Meet the author following plenary for a book signing!
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