[Science Dork] SUPER HERO SCIENCE ( interview with Jim Kakalios )

BLOG:

I trully am horrible at math. I think I was traumatized at young age and never recovered. But in high school I realized , I was rather good at physics and chemistry if I changed the variables instead of x and y into let say ah .. a happy bunny or I created a story behind the physics problem to calculate weight and momentum of a pendulum with so and so weight to lets say Tarzan’s weight and move the decimal point down later.

Of course it made my teacher laugh and be annoyed at the same time since it really was a waste of time. But being able to laugh through a physics final was more than worth it. ( plus the look of mock annoyance on my teacher’s face was priceless )

Which is why when I saw the book PHYSICS OF SUPER HEROES, dented and little worse for wear in the rather dusty physics section of  Fully Booked I knew I needed the book. to the point that I had to borrow money to buy it. ( which reminds me I have to pay that back.. durr )

Here is a nice little interview with its author.

CHEERS and may the “paws” be with you

Nudork

p.s.

I suggest those in High School to actually try this. Its actually quite funny. There really isnt any rule that variables HAVE  to be letters. ^_^ oh and tell me how that works out for you.

Superhero science

Jim Kakalios enlists the aid of costumed crimefighters to teach critical thinking in an imaginative freshman seminar

By Paul Sorenson

Somewhere in a parallel universe, a mild-mannered physics professor named Jim Kakalios dons a cape and tights to battle the forces of evil.

In our own dimension, Kakalios—an unabashed comic book enthusiast—teaches physics with the zest of a costumed crimefighter, illustrating his points with examples from the annals of superhero history.

Last fall the superheroes moved to the head of his class. In an imaginative new freshman seminar, Kakalios uses concepts and characters from comic books to explore basic principles of physics, chemistry, and biology. The course—Everything I Know About Science I Learned from Reading Comic Books—attracted students from a wide variety of disciplines.

It’s a fitting venture for Kakalios, whose lifelong love of comic books helped cultivate his passion for science.

“As a kid, comic books helped fuel my curiosity,” he recalls. In one story, his favorite hero, The Flash, lost his ability to avoid air resistance and friction. “It made me aware [that], aside from the silly notion of superpowers, there were all sorts of secondary issues associated with the ability to run superfast that I hadn’t considered.”

Convinced that comics could help make science more accessible and appealing to students of any age, Kakalios toyed for years with the notion of creating a class on the science of superheroes.

Comic books made their first foray into his classroom in 1993, when he posed a question about the death of Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, on an introductory physics exam.

Stacey’s death was a seminal event in comics, says Kakalios. Hurled from the top of the George Washington Bridge by the evil Green Goblin, she died in Spider-Man’s web as he tried to save her. Although she appeared to have suffered a broken neck when she hit the web, the series’ writers later attributed her death to the “shock of the fall,” an explanation that left many readers—including Kakalios—unsatisfied.

Twenty years after the story first appeared, Kakalios and his physics course settled the matter once and for all. “Gwen Stacey’s fall is basically a standard problem that we would ask on an exam: If you fall 90 meters with an initial velocity of zero, how fast are you going at the bottom?”

The answer he calculated removed any doubt about the cause of Stacey’s death: She was falling at roughly 95 miles per hour when she hit the web; the impact on her body would have been 10 to 20 times the force of gravity. “That proved—mathematically at least—that Gwen Stacey died of a neck snap when Spider-Man caught her in his webbing.”

The problem—a favorite among students—soon earned Kakalios wider notoriety in the comic book world. In 1997, a comic book magazine called Wizard published an issue devoted to resolving longstanding comic book questions. Kakalios wrote to the editor, University alumnus Jim McLauchlin, to offer his explanation of Stacey’s death. McLauchlin published the letter, and Kakalios earned a spot as Wizard’s “resident rocket scientist.”

In the new seminar, Kakalios and a dozen students tackled a variety of super-problems like shape-shifting and invisibility. Shrinking, for example, was fraught with difficulties. If the laws of physics applied, insect-sized Ant-Man would become deaf and speak with a hypersonic voice because his eardrums and vocal cords would shrink to submillimeter sizes. Typical air currents would easily blow him across the room, and a drop of water would double his weight, immobilizing him like a real ant.

In addition to identifying such scientific bloopers, the class examined cases in which comic creators got the science right.

“Take Superman,” says Kakalios. “In his very first year, he could only leap, not fly. His skin was tough, he had great strength, all because [his home planet] Krypton had larger gravity than Earth.” Using the hero’s ability “to leap over tall buildings in a single bound” as a benchmark, the class calculated that Krypton’s gravity would have to have been six to eight times that of Earth.

That means Krypton had to be either six times larger or six times denser than Earth. Assuming that normal matter on Krypton obeys the laws of physics, the planet could not be six times denser than Earth. “So Krypton had to be six times larger,” explains Kakalios. “But any planet that much larger than Earth would have to be a gas giant like Jupiter. Because Krypton had a solid crust supporting buildings and cities, the only other explanation for its increased gravity would be a super-dense—and unstable—material like a neutron star in its core. And that would explain why Krypton exploded.

“Of course, [Superman’s creators] didn’t know it at the time. They got the science right by accident,” says Kakalios.

The Man of Steel, introduced in 1938, was an anomaly among Golden Age heroes, says Kakalios. “Most of the characters introduced in the 1930s and 1940s got their powers through magic or mysticism,” he says. As stories were retold for subsequent generations, many characters were updated to reflect advances in science and technology.

“For example, the original Green Lantern (introduced in 1940) had a magic lantern and a power ring that was vulnerable to wood. In the 1960s, Green Lantern got a scientific makeover.” His powers were similar, but there was now a quasi-scientific explanation for his abilities: The lantern was extraterrestrial, and an impurity in his ring now made the Green Lantern vulnerable to the color yellow.

Characters created in the 1950s and 1960s often owed their powers to radiation or mutation. When Spider-Man (Peter Parker) was introduced in 1962, he owed his extraordinary abilities to the bite of a radioactive spider. When his origin was retold in the 1990s, the science was updated to reflect current trends: Parker‰s powers now result from the bite of a genetically engineered spider.

Although contemporary comic books are more grounded in science than they used to be, “they still require a willful suspension of disbelief,” says Kakalios. “The best ones require only one ‘miracle’—one thing you have to buy into to make the hero plausible—and the rest should follow.”

One of Kakalios’ favorite stories acknowledges this leap of faith. “There’s a panel in which The Atom and another character have shrunk to submolecular size, and they’re sitting on an electron,” he recalls with a grin. “The Atom’s companion says, ‘We’re smaller than an oxygen molecule. How are we breathing?’ The Atom replies, ‘I’ve never really figured that out.'”

But the course isn’t about debunking various characters or storylines, Kakalios explains. The analysis is all part of the fun.

“The most important thing is getting the students to ask the right kinds of questions,” he says. “If a character has wings on her back, what important physical forces and issues do we need to consider if she’s going to use them to fly? What kind of wingspan and muscle structure would that require? Hopefully, pointing out issues like that will help them think critically in other situations.”

As a final project, each student selected a favorite comic book superhero and examined the scientific basis of the character’s abilities. The analyses covered a wide range of genres, from superheroes to “The Simpsons.”

One of Kakalios’ personal favorites—the elastic Mr. Fantastic—could serve as a role model for his students. “Reed Richards [Mr. Fantastic] had these powers that allowed him to stretch and assume different shapes, but he often used his intellect [to defeat the villain]. He was the smartest man in the Marvel Comics Universe, and he showed that being intelligent could be cool and useful.”

But when Mr. Fantastic’s exploits sometimes defy explanation, even Kakalios the professor can set aside his scientific proclivities.

“It’s escapist fiction, so I just turn off that part of my brain and enjoy the stories on their own terms,” he says.

sources:

artwork : http://violintide-da.com/blog/

article: http://it.umn.edu/news/inventing/2002_Spring/superhero.html

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “[Science Dork] SUPER HERO SCIENCE ( interview with Jim Kakalios )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s