Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Physics of Superheroes

The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios.

"It should come as no surprise that comic books and physics make a good match; after all, the fun underlying science is not so different from that of a good superhero comic-book story. In both situations either the scientist or the comic-book reader (in some cases they may be one and the same) are presented with a set of rules to be applied in novel, challenging situations." (p. 300)

I know next to nothing about physics. I know next to nothing about comic-book superheroes, come to think of it. I vaguely remember reading a blog review of The Physics of Superheroes, but I can't for the life of me remember when or on which blog. I do remember clicking over to Amazon immediately to add the book to my wish list. The book sounded like an interesting approach to learning the basic principles of physics. I have a "Why, why, why?" kid who explores the world with zest and curiousity, and in addition to the challenge of my own self-education, I'd like to be able to give him real answers to his questions. How many times can I say, "Go ask Dad" before he stops asking me? And I learned some really cool stuff too, like this: "The random collisions of the air on our eardrums produce deflections that are just at the limit of our hearing. Sit in a soundproof room for about thirty minutes and your hearing improves...until you'll be able to detect the deflection of your eardrums by the motion of the atoms. It is possible in a very quiet room to hear the background noise emanating from the entropy of the air, in essence to hear the temperature of the room. Super-hearing-- it's not just for Kryptonians anymore!" (p. 145)

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Physics of Superheroes. This book held my attention and piqued my interest. Kakalios uses examples from superhero comic books which got their science right to illustrate basic physics principles. He writes with humor and intelligence. It's well-written, fun to read and (at least as far as I can tell, which isn't very far) scientifically sound. I found the balance between the science parts of the book and the superheroes to be just right-- it's clear that The Physics of Superheroes is meant to teach physics, and the superheroes bits are to make it interesting and fun. I can't say that I completely understood all of it. Physics, once you get beyond the basic laws of force and motion, is a bit of a mystery. Bugs and rocks and plants, science that I can see and hold in my hand, I get. But the physics of atoms, for example, is still pretty fuzzy in my head even though I read and re-read those sections. Good thing loving husband took some basics physics classes in college, because I found myself turning to him and saying, "Explain this to me again," or "Am I understanding this correctly?"

But, and this is the value of reading a good book on a subject that's entirely new, reading The Physics of Superheroes made me want to learn more. More about physics, that is. The superhero part was a lot of fun, but I didn't find myself wanting to run out and buy a Superman comic book. I did find myself wishing that I had the time, money and energy to take a physics class, though. I'd definitely recommend The Physics of Superheroes for anyone interested in physics, or in superheroes, or both.

1 comment:

living in PA said...

This book looks like so much fun. I'll have to find a copy.