Convocation Uncovers the Physics of Comic Book Superheroes

U of M Professor James Kakalios explores the scientific plausibility of the powers and feats of the most famous superheroes.

16 April 2018 Posted In:
Cover art for the book, "The Physics of Superheroes."
Cover art for the book, "The Physics of Superheroes."Photo:

Author and University of Minnesota physics professor James Kakalios, will present Carleton’s weekly convocation on Friday, April 20, entitled “The Physics of Superheroes.” Using his training as a physicist, his experience as a scientific consultant to Hollywood filmmakers, and his love of comic books, Kakalios will explore how comic book writers get their science surprisingly right.

Carleton convocations are held from 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. on Friday mornings in the Skinner Memorial Chapel. They are also recorded and archived for online viewing.

Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught since 1988. In addition to his research focusing on experimental condensed matter physics in complex and disordered systems, Kakalios’ freshman seminar, “Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I learned from Reading Comic Books,” has garnered widespread attention.

According to Kakalios, he himself began collecting comic books while in graduate school as a way to relieve stress. At the U of M, he decided to use the physics of superheroes as a way to motivate his students, exploring the scientific plausibility of the powers and feats of the most famous superheroes as a way to learn the fundamentals of physics. Kakalios’ alternative approach has proven quite popular, leading to coverage in People magazine, appearances at CONvergence, and the publication of his book, “The Physics of Superheroes” (Avery, 2006), now in its second edition and translated into six languages. With engaging and witty commentary, the book effectively introduces the lay reader to both classic and cutting-edge concepts in physics.

After serving as a science consultant for the Warner Bros. film “Watchmen, Kakalios filmed his own video, “The Science of Watchmen,” for the University of Minnesota’s YouTube page. The video won a 2009 regional Emmy Award and in 2010 was nominated for a Webby. Kakalios’ latest book, “The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made our World” (Avery, 2011), explains the basic quantum physics principles behind the laser, transistors, light emitting diodes, computer hard drives and magnetic resonance imaging.

Kakalios is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and has served as the Chair of the APS Committee on Informing the Public and the Past-Chair of the APS Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public. His efforts in science communication and public outreach have been recognized by a 2009 Regional Emmy Award, the 2014 AAAS Public Engagement with Science Award, the American Institute of Physics’ 2016 Andrew Gemant Award. In 2017, he was bestowed an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Lincoln (U.K.).

This event is free and open to the public. For more information, including disability accommodations, call (507) 222-4308. The Skinner Memorial Chapel is located at First and College Streets in Northfield.