Kakalios, James 1958–
Kakalios, James 1958–
ADDRESSES: Office—School of Physics and Astronomy, 116 Church St. S.E., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455. Agent—Jay Mandel, William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]
CAREER: Educator and writer. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, assistant professor, 1988–93, associate professor, 1993–2001, professor of physics and director of graduate studies, 2001–. Associate fellow, Minnesota Supercomputer Institute, 1995–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Presidential Young Investigator Award, National Science Foundation, 1990–95; Charles E. Bowers Faculty Teaching Award, 2003.
The Physics of Superheroes, Gotham (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: James Kakalios has been studying physics for most of his adult life. The acclaimed professor's work has included research of granular media and complex systems, as well as an ongoing study into the electronic and optical properties of amorphous semiconductors. While such subjects fascinate the scientifically minded, many of Kakalios's freshman physics students at the University of Minnesota were less than interested. When the professor combined his scientific knowledge with his lifelong love for comic books, however, he found a way to make physics comprehensible and enjoyable.
In 2001 Kakalios developed a freshman course called "Everything I Know about Science I Learned from Reading Comic Books." The professor used familiar comic characters, including the Flash and the X-Men, to teach his students about Newtonian mechanics and the laws of thermodynamics. The class not only proved popular among students from a variety of disciplines, but also seized the attention of media outlets from across the country and around the world.
After being featured in newspapers and on radio and television shows for creating the comic-book course, Kakalios built on the material he used in class to write the book The Physics of Superheroes. Published in 2005 the work asks questions, such as, "If he existed, could Superman really leap tall buildings in a single bound?" and offers scientific explanations to these entertaining inquiries. Kakalios argues that, while many of these superheroes' superpowers are completely unrealistic, comics contain many situations that are scientifically possible and can teach readers quite a lot about science.
The book was critically acclaimed. A contributor to Publishers Weekly felt that Kakalios's work is "terrific" and infused with enough humor to make the reader "laugh aloud." Denise Dayton, writing for Library Journal, noted that the author's "lively, humorous style" makes the science presented in the text both accessible and fun.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chronicle of Higher Education, May 31, 2002, "A Classroom Where Superheroes Meet Their Nemeses: The Laws of Physics," p. A10.
Current Science, October 25, 2002, Hugh Westrup, "Superhero Science," p. 4.
Library Journal, October 1, 2005, Denise Dayton, review of The Physics of Superheroes, p. 107.
Publishers Weekly, August 1, 2005, review of The Physics of Superheroes, p. 56.
Science, November 11, 2005, Sam Kean, "A Comical Look at Real Physics," p. 976.
Science News, October 22, 2004, review of The Physics of Superheroes, p. 271.
University of Minnesota Web site, http://www.physics.umn.edu/ (January 10, 2006), "Physics Directory: James Kakalios."