The Physics and Materials Science of Superheroes

Event Details
  • Date/Time:
    • Monday October 2, 2017
      6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  • Location: Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, Room 152
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Summary Sentence: Superhero comic books often get their science right more often than one would expect!

Full Summary: No summary paragraph submitted.

  • Kakalios Superheroes.flyer Kakalios Superheroes.flyer

In 2001 James Kakalios created a Freshman Seminar class at the University of Minnesota entitled: "Everything I Know About Science I Learned from Reading Comic Books." This is a real physics class, that covers topics from Isaac Newton to the transistor, but there’s not an inclined plane or pulley in sight.  Rather, ALL the examples come from superhero comic books, and as much as possible, those cases where the superheroes get their physics right!

While physicists, engineers and materials scientists don’t typically consult comic books when selecting research topics; innovations first introduced in superhero adventures as fiction can sometimes find their way off the comic book page and into reality. As amazing as the Fantastic Four’s powers is the fact that their costumes are undamaged when the Human Torch flames on or Mr. Fantastic stretches his elastic body.  In shape memory materials, an external force or torque induces a structural change that is reversed upon warming, a feature appreciated by Mr. Fantastic. Spider-Man’s wall crawling ability has been ascribed to the same van der Waals attractive force that gecko lizards employ through the millions of microscopic hairs on their toes. Scientists have developed “gecko tape,” consisting of arrays of fibers that provide a strong enough attraction to support a modest weight. 

All this, and important topics such as: was it “the fall” or “the webbing” that killed Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s girlfriend in the classic Amazing Spider-Man # 121, how graphene saved Iron Man’s life and the chemical composition of Captain America’s shield, will be discussed.  Superhero comic books often get their science right more often than one would expect!


James Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy.  He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1985; he worked as a post-doctoral research associate at the Xerox – Palo Alto Research Center; and then in 1988, having had enough of those California winters, joined the faculty of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota. His research interests include nanocrystalline and amorphous semiconductors, pattern formation in sandpiles and fluctuation phenomena in neurological systems.

His popular science book THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES was published in 2005 in the U.S. and the U.K., and has been translated into six languages.   The SPECTACULAR SECOND EDITION was published in November 2009, followed by THE AMAZING STORY OF QUANTUM MECHANICS in 2010. His new book THE PHYSICS OF EVERYDAY THINGS: The Extraordinary Science Behind an Ordinary Day was published by Crown Books in May 2017.

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Additional Information

In Campus Calendar

School of Physics, College of Sciences, Center for the Science and Technology of Advanced Materials and Interfaces (STAMI), School of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Invited Audience
Faculty/Staff, Public, Graduate students, Undergraduate students
physics, superheroes
  • Created By: sniebuhr3
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Sep 15, 2017 - 10:52am
  • Last Updated: Sep 19, 2017 - 3:57pm