James Kakalios (born 1958) is a physics professor at the University of Minnesota. Known within the scientific community for his work with amorphous semiconductors, granular materials, and 1/f noise, he is known to the general public as the author of the book The Physics of Superheroes, which considers comic book superheroes from the standpoint of fundamental physics.
Kakalios, who earned PhD from the University of Chicago in 1985, began his comic book collection as a graduate student as a way to relieve stress. At Minnesota, he taught a freshman seminar that focused on the physics of superheroes as a way to motivate students to think about physics. This course gained great popularity as an enticing alternative to the typical inclined planes and pulleys of physics.
The seminar was a great success, leading to articles in popular magazines including People, lectures on the subject, and publication of The Physics of Superheroes. In his talks, favorite examples are the death of Gwen Stacy (Spider-Man's girlfriend), "can Superman jump over tall buildings and what does this tell us about Krypton?", the high-velocity actions of The Flash, and the shrinking problem of the Atom. His analysis of Gwen Stacy's death eventually became integral to the plot of a new Spider-Man comic.
Kakalios is of the opinion that the most unrealistic aspect of the comic-book universe is often the sociology. He notes that pedestrians don't usually provide running monologues describing everything around them. There is one aspect of the story of the Atom that he does not question, however. The Atom begins as a physics professor, who encounters a chunk of white dwarf star and picks it up. "By a conservative estimate, he is lifting about 5000 metric tons. This is not unreasonable," Kakalios will say at the end of his talk, taking off his glasses before walking offstage. "We physics professors are just that strong."
He provides content on the DVD of the film Watchmen. Under extras, he is filmed discussing the physics of superheroes.
Dr. Kakalios has been nominated by the University of Minnesota to be one of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Nifty Fifty Speakers who will speak about his work and career to middle and high school students in October 2010.
- "Jim Kakalios:Superhero Science". Inventing Tomorrow. University of Minnesota Institute of Technology. 2002. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- "NPR: The Physics of Superheroes" (Windows Media). Talk of the Nation. National Public Radio. 2006-09-25. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- http://www.usasciencefestival.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=74&Itemid=95 retrieved 2010-03-26
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