Explore ‘The Uncanny Physics of Superhero Comic Books’ in free public lecture


Have you ever wondered exactly why Captain America’s famous shield is nearly indestructible? Or who would win a race between comic book heroes Superman and the Flash?

A free public lecture at the University of Lincoln, UK, will reveal answers to these questions and address many other mysteries surrounding the science of our favourite superheroes as it explores The Uncanny Physics of Superhero Comic Books.

Delivered by renowned US physicist, bestselling author, and dynamic storyteller Professor James Kakalios, the talk will take place at 6pm on Thursday 7th September 2017 in the University of Lincoln’s new Isaac Newton Building.

Professor Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy. In 2001, he created a seminar entitled Everything I Know about Science I Learned from Reading Comic Books. As an in-depth physics class, it covers topics from Isaac Newton to the transistor, but without an inclined plane or pulley in sight. Instead, all his examples come from superhero comic books, and as much as possible, those cases where the superheroes get their science right.

This exciting physics class garnered a great deal of attention in 2002 with the release of the first Spider-Man film, and inspired him to write his popular science book The Physics of Superheroes. His talk at the University of Lincoln, hosted by the School of Mathematics and Physics, will bring his fascinating findings to a new audience in the UK.

Professor Kakalios said: “My talk will show how superhero comic books can be used to illustrate fundamental physics principles. For example, was it “the fall” or “the webbing” that killed Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s girlfriend in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #121? How does Kitty Pryde from the X-Men comics and movies use quantum mechanics to walk through walls? Why does the Flash become heavier as he tries to run at the speed of light? All this, and the answers to such important real life questions as the chemical composition of Captain America’s shield, and who is faster: Superman or the Flash?”

This free public talk is the first in the University of Lincoln’s new series of Great Lives guest lectures, which aim to provide an insight into the achievements of leading influential figures and recognisable faces from the arts, business and economics, politics, health and science, as well as bringing more local leading Lecturers and Visiting Professors to the fore.

Designed for prospective students, the University’s own staff and students and members of the public alike, the aim is to inspire and encourage thoughtful conversation about careers, industries and disciplines while showcasing some of the diverse research and activities that take place within the University.

Before bringing the world of physics to life in his unique Great Lives talk, Professor Kakalios will receive an Honorary Doctorate at the University of Lincoln’s graduation ceremony taking place on Thursday 7th September 2017, in recognition of his significant contribution to pioneering research and public dissemination in physics.

At the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy, his research interests include nanocrystalline and amorphous semiconductors, pattern formation in sandpiles and fluctuation phenomena in neurological systems. However, it was his love of comic books and physics that saw him catapulted into the spotlight in recent years. The Physics of Superheroes was published in 2005 in the U.S. and the U.K., and has since been translated into German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Italian. His second title, The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, was released in October 2010 and his most recent book, The Physics of Everyday Things: The Extraordinary Science behind an Ordinary Day, was published by Crown Books in May 2017. This latest book reveals the mind-bending science behind the seemingly basic things that keep our daily lives running, from our smart phones and digital ‘clouds’ to x-ray machines and hybrid vehicles.

Professor Kakalios was the Chair of the American Physical Society (A.P.S.) Committee on Informing the Public, Past-Chair of the A.P.S. Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public, winner of the 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Public Engagement with Science Award, and the 2016 Andrew Gemant Award for outreach efforts from the American Institute of Physics.