Featuring James Kakalios
Chaired by Helen Sedgwick
The title of the presentation given was The uncanny Physics of Super-hero comic books. He started off by thanking everyone for coming to the event….Nerds. In 2001, James created a seminar class at the University of Minnesota called ‘Everything I know about science I learned from reading comic books.’ In spring 2002, with the release of Spiderman film, James thought it was an ideal opportunity to get science into the newspaper. He wrote one article about Spiderman and it went all round the world. He then started showing up in places where physics professors don’t usually appear. Like Trivial Pursuit!
Superheroes in comics get their science right more than you think. You just need to suspend your disbelief. The physics of being super strong or super fast is correct if you suspend your disbelief. ‘Just the other day I picked up an object that was going at 600 miles an hour, it was a ginger bear I poured on my plane. But so was I moving at the same speed.
Talk then moved to newton’s third law of motion. For every action there is an opposite but equal reaction or forces come in pairs. There was sighs in the audience at this remark and it led James to say ‘ I am a teacher, your hatred only makes me stronger.’
As a child I really wanted to be hit by lighting or roll around in nuclear waste, as this seemed to be the way to gain superpowers.
In June 1938, superman made his first appearance. The very first superman villain was a crooked politician, that’s who he used to fight. He fought crooked politicians, landlords and owners of coal mines. However as soon as Superman became top comic of a multi-million empire, the villain switched to people like Brianiac. They still wanted to take over the world but left the USA economic structure alone.
Comics have always envisioned what our future world will be like. For example we do have jet packs, why do we not take them to work? Well you could if you lived next door to where you work on average a jet pack will only last 7 minutes. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to use a jet pack.
In spring 1926, pulp magazine Amazing Stories was the first magazine to focus soley on sci-fi. Also published in the same year was Schrodinger. One led to lasers, the other led to death rays.
Quantum Mechanics in three easy steps:
1) Light is both a wave and a particle.
2) Matter has wave and particle properties.
3) Everything has intrinsic spin
The above properties of matter form the base of the physics behind the MRI machine. We used to think that helium only existed in the stars, which is why it was named after Helios, the sun god. It wasn’t until years later that helium particles were discovered naturally on Earth.
Before Spiderman, every month the world would be attacked by giant space invaders in Tales to Astonish. The world was doomed if it wasn’t for scientists! Some of giant space invaders were, Lo-Kar. Moomba, Groog and Fin Tang Foom. James’s favourite space invader was the tax collector from outer space.
When the laser was first developed, journalists reported that it was an invention of a death ray. It took four years from the invention of the laser until it was used to try to cut 007 in half in Goldfinger.
The final slide of James’s presentation stated that ‘with physics comes both great power and great responsibility.’
With that final thought the event was drawn to a close. This event was extremely entertaining and incorporated quantum physics and superheroes. The nerd inside me wishes that the event was longer.
I highly recommend that everyone should read ‘The physics of Superheroes’ and see for yourself how often the physics behind the comics is actually correct.