James Kakalios, U. of Minnesota
The Uncanny Physics of Superhero Comic Books
Argonne Physics Division Colloquium - 7 Jan 2011
11:00 AM, Building 203 auditorium

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 the popular science book THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES. Using superheroes to describe physics principles has provided many and varied opportunities for outreach and to discuss science with the general public. In 2007, in response to a request from the National Academy of Sciences, I served as the science consultant for the Warner Bros. superhero film Watchmen. In 2009 I filmed a short video on the Science of Watchmen, which was viewed over 1.5 million times in the first few months of being posted on youtube.com. 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.

My talk will show how physics can address some of the burning issues of the day. 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. Superhero comic books often get their science right more often than one would expect.

Argonne Physics Division Colloquium Schedule