The Uncanny Physics of Superhero Comic Books

a public lecture by

Professor James Kakalios

(The University of Minnesota, USA)

Thursday, 7th of September 2017,

6:00 pm

Isaac Newton Lecture Theatre, Isaac Newton Building, Brayford Campus, University of Lincoln

Book a place

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.

Brief Biography:

James Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1985; he worked as a post-doctoral research associate at the Xerox – Palo Alto Research Center; and then in 1988, having had enough of those California winters, joined the faculty of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota. His popular science book THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES was published in 2005 in the U.S. and the U.K., and has been translated into German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Italian. The SPECTACULAR SECOND EDITION was published in November 2009, and his second book THE AMAZING STORY OF QUANTUM MECHANICS was released in October 2010. His next book, THE PHYSICS OF EVERYDAY THINGS: THE EXTRAORDINARY SCIENCE OF AN ORDINARY DAY will be published by Crown Books in May 2017. In 2007, in response to a request from the National Academy of Sciences, he served as the science consultant for the Warner Bros. superhero film Watchmen. In 2009 Kakalios made a short video on the Science of Watchmen, which was viewed over 1.8 million times on This video won an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy award in the alternative Media: Arts/Entertainment category in 2009 and was nominated for a WEBBY award in 2010. His research interests include nanocrystalline and amorphous semiconductors, pattern formation in sandpiles and fluctuation phenomena in neurological systems. He was the Chair of the American Physical Society (A.P.S.) Committee on Informing the Public, Past-Chair of the A.P.S. Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public, winner of the 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Public Engagement with Science Award, and the 2016 Andrew Gemant Award for outreach efforts from the American Institute of Physics. He has been reading comic books longer than he has been studying physics.

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© School of Mathematics and Physics, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS, United Kingdom
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