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James Kakalios to Receive 2020 Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award


James KakaliosThe American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) announced today that James Kakalios, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, is the 2020 recipient of the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award. The lecture and award will be presented during the AAPT Summer Meeting.

This award recognizes educators who have made notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics.

Regarding his selection to receive the 2020 Klopsteg Award Kakalios said, " I use superheroes to illustrate physics principles for the general public, and it is a true honor and privilege to receive this award from a society of the true superheroes of physics – physics teachers!"

Kakalios received his Ph.D. in 1985 from the University of Chicago. He is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught since 1988. His scientific research in experimental condensed matter physics concerns the properties of complex and disordered systems. His class “Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I learned from Reading Comic Books” is a popular freshman seminar.

Extensive media coverage of this class in May 2002, in connection with the release of the first Sony Spider-Man film, resulted in hundreds of e-mails from students, teachers and those long out of college, all supporting the concept of using superheroes to teach physics and enquiring about a book based on the class. This led to his writing the popular science book “The Physics of Superheroes” (2005) that has been translated into six languages, and whose Spectacular Second Edition was published in 2009. He is also the author of “The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics” (2010) and the recently published “The Physics of Everyday Things” (Crown, 2017).

In 2007, he served as the science consultant for the Warner Bros. superhero film Watchmen. He appears on the DVD version of the film in a special feature that discusses some of the science behind one of Watchmen’s central characters — Dr. Manhattan. In 2009, Kakalios made a video with the University News Service on “The Science of Watchmen,” which has been viewed over 1.8 million times and in 2009 won a regional Emmy Award in the “Advanced Media: Arts/Entertainment” category. In 2012, Kakalios served as one of the science consultants for the Marvel Entertainment American superhero film The Amazing Spider-Man. A 2018 video for Business Insider, where Kakalios discussed the physics underlying 10 Iconic Scenes in Marvel superhero movies has been viewed over 4.2 million times, and another for Science Insider on the strength of Spider-Man’s webbing has received over 530,000 views.

His research interests include nanocrystalline and amorphous semiconductors and fluctuation phenomena in neurological systems. His efforts at science outreach have been recognized with awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Physics. Kakalios has been recognized by the American Institute of Physics with the 2016 Andrew Gemant Award. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recognized him with their award for Public Engagement with Science in 2014 and as an AAAS Fellow in 2013. He was named as a Fellow by the American Physical Society in 2015.

In nominating Kakalios for this award his colleagues noted, “Using comic books and superhero movies as a "hook," Jim Kakalios has found a unique way to relate physics to the public, in a fun and accessible manner.”

About the Award
Named for Paul E. Klopsteg, a principal founder, a former AAPT President, and a long-time member of AAPT, the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award recognizes outstanding communication of the excitement of contemporary physics to the general public. The recipient delivers the Klopsteg Lecture at an AAPT Summer Meeting on a topic of current significance and at a level suitable for a non-specialist audience and receives a monetary award, an Award Certificate, and travel expenses to the meeting.

Recent Awardees:

  • 2019 Jodi A. Cooley, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX
  • 2018 Clifford Victor Johnson, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2017 John C. Brown, University of Glasgow Scotland
  • 2016 Margaret Wertheim, Institute For Figuring, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2015 David Weintraub, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
  • 2014 Donald W. Olson, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX

Award Winners before 2014.

About AAPT
AAPT is an international organization for physics educators, physicists, and industrial scientists—with members worldwide. Dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching, AAPT provides awards, publications, and programs that encourage teaching practical application of physics principles, support continuing professional development, and reward excellence in physics education. AAPT was founded in 1930 and is headquartered in the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.