Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Physics of Superheroes

This one made my brain hurt but in a good way. I stretched mental muscles that I haven't used since high school.

I finished reading The Physics of Superheroes by Dr. James Kakalios last night. Dr. Kakalios endeavors to teach basic physics principles via illustrations from comic books. I first heard of Dr. Kakalios because of his connection to the abysmal Watchmen movie. He apparently was a technical consultant (or something like that) who advised the movie folks on their science. I want to make this clear: I do not blame Dr. Kakalios in any way for the giant mess Watchmen became.

This book is based on a freshman seminar that Dr. Kakalios teaches at the University of Minnesota. I found one of the statements he made at the beginning of the book hilarious. He opined that many of his students didn't like science classes because they weren't sure how they would apply what they were learning to the real world. He goes on to note, "Interestingly enough, whenever I cite examples from superhero comic books in a lecture, my students never wonder when they will use this information in their 'real life.' Apparently they all have plans, post-graduation, that involve protecting the City from all threats while wearing spandex."

For the most part, Dr. Kakalios kept all of the principles and ideas accessible, using basic algebra to explain the math behind the ideas. There were plenty of times when the discussion started to scrape my scalp, but for the most part, I think I tracked with him. And the comic book examples did indeed help. For example, Dr. Kakalios was able to suss out the planet Krypton's gravity based on how high Superman could jump (before he learned to fly). He also figured out how much food the Flash might have to eat. He posited theories on how Kitty Pryde's power works. And he proved that Spiderman is guilty of manslaughter.

Don't beleive me? Watch the video and he'll explain it for himself:

I'm not sure if this helped me in my upcoming writing project, but it was a great read and worth the time.

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