A Comic-Con Special: Unmasking the The Secrets of Comic Book Physics
From Spiderman’s web-slinging to The Flash’s super intense metabolism, Superhero Science continues to inspire Nerds.
When you think of Comic-Con, you might think of characters from the Marvel or DC Comics universe and the many summer blockbuster action movies they’ve spawned. Or you might think sci-fi, which has its own comics following and is no slouch when it comes to blockbusters – cough…Star Wars…cough.
Then again, if you’re like University of Minnesota physics Professor James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes, you just might delve beyond the characters, epic battles, and prospective cosplay outfits.
Sure, comic books and graphic novels are a great way to get your Nerds reading. But what Kakalios discovered back in 2001 when he began teaching the freshman seminar “Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books” was how graphic novels and the colorful, character-driven stories they tell:
- Get the physics/science RIGHT (mostly) and
- Are naturally inspiring vehicles for teaching and nurturing kids’ curiosity in… actual science!
Transforming Science Fiction to Science Fact
Professor Kakalios has been a comic book fan since he was a kid. He was inspired to develop his freshman superhero science course by another U of M professor who, in a preliminary oral exam, asked a prospective astronomy graduate student, “How much energy would it take to for the Death Star to blow up the planet Alderaan in Star Wars?”
What Randall Munroe achieves with his stick-figured webcomic XKCD, Kakalios does in the classroom with four-color flourish. In 2005, Kakalios published the first edition of his book as a pain-free way to help introduce basic physics concepts to any interested non-specialist – people we at Raising Nerd like to call “Nerds in training.” The book covered a broad range of topics and real-world examples in each, including:
- Forces and Motion (Up, Up and Away!)
- Centripetal Acceleration (Can He Swing From a Thread?)
- Torque and Rotation (Can Ant-Man Punch His Way Out of a Paper Bag?)
- Magnetism and Faraday’s Law (How Magneto Becomes Electro When He Runs)
- Conduction and Convection (Mutant Meteorology)
- Laws of Thermodynamics (The Case of the Missing Work)
- Atomic Physics (Journey Into the Microverse)
- Quantum Mechanics (Flash of Two Worlds!)
The book was updated and expanded in 2009, with the new version, The Physics of Superheroes: More Heroes! More Villains! More Science! Spectacular Second Edition, explaining, among other things:
- Why Spider-Man’s webbing failed his girlfriend
- The probable cause of Krypton’s explosion and
- The Newtonian physics at work in Gotham City.
More Comics Inspiration on Superhero Science for You & Your Nerds
Want more real science inspiration wrapped up in superheroes, super villains, and other characters drawn from fantastic realms? To borrow an old superhero term:
Books on Superhero Science:
- The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence M. Krauss
- Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku
- SCIENCE: A Discovery in Comics by Margreet de Heer
- The Science of Superheroes and Space Warriors: Lightsabers, Batmobiles, Kryptonite, and More! by HowStuffWorks.com
Actual Science Comic Books:
Cool Superhero Science Videos
- Stan Lee Talks About The Science of Marvel Comics
- Mind-blowing Time Travel Paradoxes & The Flash!
- MythBusters: Can A Star Wars Blaster Bolt Be Dodged?
- ASAPScience: The Science of Superheroes – Spiderman
- VSauce3: What if Superman Punched You?
- Minute Physics
Superhero Science on the Web:
Read more about Superhero Science:
- Scientific American: Can You Learn Physics From a Comic Book?
- Salon: Absurd explanations for comic super powers
- Popular Science: Marvel Announces Science, Tech, and Math-Devoted Comic Book Covers
- The Science of Harry Potter and The Physics of Christmas by Roger Highfield