Table of Contents
The Physics of Superheroes:
“[Kakalios] uses Superman, Spider-Man and less well-known characters such as Ant Man—yes, there was a superhero called Ant Man—to explain physics principles from gravity and the laws of motion to quantum mechanics.”
“The physics, even when Kakalios points out where the comics got it wrong, is drawn out sympathetically and with good humor.”
—Richmond Times Dispatch
“A droll but sincere look at what Superman and Spider-Man can teach about physics. . . . Entertaining. . . . His explanations are lucid and smooth.”
“With passion, general affability, and a penchant for bad (truly bad) jokes, Kakalios ably relates the most baffling of theorems.”
“A fascinating seminar on just how the superpowers of various heroes would and wouldn’t work, scientifically.”
“Entertaining, and often quite funny.”
—The Post and Courier
“What could superheroes and physics possibly have in common? More than you’d think. [Kakalios] takes a number of famed comic-book heroes and analyzes their abilities and actions in terms of how plausible they are from a physics standpoint.”
“Knowledgeable. . . . Cleverly informative reading.”
—Comic Shop News
“A physics textbook that will be interesting. . . . Very entertaining.”
“Kakalios draws on the Atom, Iron Man, X- Men, the Ant Man, and the Hulk, among others, to cover topics as diverse as electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, string theory, and thermodynamics. That all of this is accomplished with enough humor to make you laugh aloud is an added bonus.”
“[Kakalios] describes the powers of comic-book superheroes and uses those traits as an opportunity to launch into interesting physics.”
“A treat for anyone interested in physical science and can be enjoyed readily by math phobes and those with little science education, since Kakalios explains it all with clear detail and a good measure of fun. Highly recommended.”
“Clearly, Kakalios is a man who loves both physics and comics, and it really shines through.”
“Kakalios’s use of such stories to elucidate the finer points of impulse and momentum is extremely readable.”
“After reading so many comic books, Kakalios is a bit of a comic himself, and he makes this a thoroughly entertaining read. Why can’t all physics professors be like this?”
—Science a GoGo
“[An] engaging and informative look at the surprising role of physics in comic books.”
The Physics of Superheroes
is clear, rapid, funny, and endlessly informative—as if Stan Lee and George Gamow had teamed up to battle the nefarious forces of ignorance.”
—Gerard Jones, author of
Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book
“Author James Kakalios is a scientific genius who could put Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom to shame. Superman should have him on retainer. I do—because
The Physics of Superheroes
is this comic-book writer’s newest favorite indispensable resource.”
—Mark Waid, writer of
James Kakalios is a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught since 1988, and where his class “Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books” is a popular freshman seminar. He received his Ph.D. in 1985 from the University of Chicago, and has been reading comic books for much longer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and three children.
Author photo: Jonathan Chapman Photography
Figures in photo courtesy of Marvel Comics
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First printing, November 2009
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ALTHOUGH WILE E. COYOTE is by no stretch of the imagination a superhero, I have to admit that it was this hapless villain—who escaped death episode after episode while continuing to fruitlessly chase the Road Runner with almost Sisyphean intensity day in and day out—who first got me thinking about the physics of illustrated characters. Even as a relatively young boy hooked on television, I suspected there was something fishy whenever I saw Wile E. run off a cliff and hover indefinitely until the moment he realized there was no solid ground underneath. Somehow it seemed to me even then that gravity should continue to work, whether or not one was conscious of it.
I bring this example up, in spite of the fact that it involves no superheroes, and in fact involves a television cartoon rather than a comic-book figure, because it illustrates a point that has become central to the way I think about teaching physics: Few things are more memorable than confronting one’s own misconceptions. Indeed, some of us who study “physics education” for a living suggest that it is only by directly encouraging students to run up against their own misconceptions that you can help them internalize what you’re teaching them. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I do know that if you want to reach out to understand popular misconceptions, then exploiting where we get our cultural perspectives from is a good place to start. And if that means borrowing from Superman, or
I am all for it!