Science
Book giveaway: The Physics of Superheroes

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Sporting the slogan “More heroes! More villains! More SCIENCE!” on the cover, the second edition of The Physics of Superheroes, by James Kakalios, delivers the goods. Revamped since the first edition, with more examples and a new section on quantum mechanics, this book makes learning physics exciting and fun. No more “ball falling off a cliff” examples to demonstrate Newton’s F=ma. Instead, you learn how hard Superman would really have to push off to leap as high as a tall building. This is a book for comic book enthusiasts who never knew they liked science, or at least never thought they could explore the two at the same time.

Kakalios is a college physics professor, but not like any one I’ve ever met! While far from “real world” examples of angular momentum, electromagnetism, and materials science, Kakalios offers compelling illustrations of the principles of physics through Superman, the Flash, Electro, and other heroes in spandex. This book is a great way to get a resistant high school-age kid interested in science, and it’s a fun read for adults, too.

Book giveaway time!

We’re giving away three copies of The Physics of Superheroes! Just leave a comment, telling us your favorite comic book physics moment, even if you’re not sure of the science behind it (that’s what the book should teach you, right?). Please be sure to enter your email address in the “email” field (it won’t be published). The giveaway will close on Thursday, December 10th at 12pm PST.

122 thoughts on “Book giveaway: The Physics of Superheroes

  1. Running so fast that the molecules on his body passed between the molecules that made up the wall, without harming either one.

  2. Wasn’t exactly a comic book, but I remember loving this children’s book where the flash challenges superman to a race around the world. Eventually they get to the ocean where flash ran across the top of the water while superman had to run along the bottom of the ocean. I always thought superman was a fatty, but compared to the flash who isn’t?

  3. Now that you mention it, what makes superman go anyway? He doesn’t flap is arms, or have a jet pack. Is it just his initial jump from the ground that keeps him going?

  4. This one may have never been in the comic book but in the last Superman movie, he took a bullet in the eye at point blank range. I have often thought about this and how it could be possible to take deflect a bullet using what is normally a ball of gelatinous goo. Thinking of this sparks new thoughts of what would be possible if this ability was possible.

  5. (I guess this slightly depends on which version you go on) but the fact that a flare of radiation passed through their space shuttle to give them all unique superpowers – changing their DNA

  6. That ability of Superman to turn back time with the force of his superfast (superpowerful?) flight in the opposite direction of the earth’s revolution…

    1. I was coming to add this, but you got it a little wrong (I think). My favorite moment was when I discovered that it wasn’t anything about his orientation, it wasn’t him physically turning the earth backwards, or anything like that. He was just flying so fast he jumped through spacetime.

  7. Howard the Duck was my favorite comic back in the day. I could never completely buy into the traveling between alternate universes bit, but I never questioned the plausibility of a talking duck in love with a hot sidekick.

    Anyway, sounds like a great book. I’d love to win it and share it with the offspring!

  8. There’s so many exotic powers to question, like can Superman really squeeze coal into diamond? But I’ll choose a mundane one:

    When Batman swings from a rope or Spidey swings from a web, the cord and their backs form a straight line, while they’re bent at the waist so their legs form a right (or even sharper) angle. It looks pretty athletic and cool. But when they bend, shouldn’t that affect their center of gravity so that their tush would move backwards, thus making them look dorky?

    Perhaps the only true superpower is being able to do anything you want, including running around in your underwear, without looking stupid.

  9. In the 90’s Lois and Clark TV show (with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher) one of the opening gambits involves Superman in the middle of a street being sprayed with bullets by a machine-gun-wielding bad guy. Superman stands motionless and the bullets bounce harmlessly off of him. The bullets are moving too fast for the eye to see, of course, but a slow-mo replay of the scene shows Superman catching the bullets as they bounce off of him so they don’t hit bystanders.

    I just really liked that the writers thought through the question “What happens to bullets after they bounce?” and added a sly “faster than a speeding bullet” reference.

    Tim

  10. I always love the shifters. I’ve even tried to figure out how they can shift to creatures or people larger or smaller than themselves and be the right density.

  11. In the new adventures of superman, Lois and Superman are caught inside a laser guarded cage. After Lois’ encouragement superman is able to vibrate his body faster than light, sneak out and shut down the power.The concentrated expression on superman’s face tells that this is a very hard job. Even the spandex and hairdo are saved intact.

  12. It might not exactly be physics, but I love the Makers in Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan — household appliances that disassemble and reassemble materials on a molecular level to create goods, food, etc. Middle-class people are seen gathering trash in the streets for their Makers to reuse, instead of buying a replacement block of materials.

  13. There are three comic book heroes that I think have the coolest physics-related superpowers and abilities.

    #1) The Human Torch has gotta be the best example of physics in comic books, hands down. I don’t recall any specific examples or issues that stand out as being especially fantastical (pun intended), but the idea of being able to engulf oneself entirely in flames, and use that ability to fly, melt stuff and absorb explosions, all without harming bystanders is AWESOME.

    #2) The events alone surrounding Bruce Banner’s transformation into The Hulk are enough to make him one of the top contenders for coolest physics-related superhero. Although…does particle physics count too?

    #3) The coolest thing about The Flash is simply his ability to move so quickly without sucking all the air out of rooms, creating a “sonic boom” whenever he runs, bursting into flames through friction with the air and of course, running on the surface of water. Ah, Flash. Is there anything you can’t do? haha

    And with that, I hereby officially submit my comment to the drawing to win the book. Pick me, MAKE! Pick me!

  14. My favorite physics question in pretty much all of comic-dom is: Where does the energy come from that allows heroes like Cyclops to project kinetic beams from his eyes (and how does that not break his neck, equal and opposite reaction, hello?), or for the Human Torch to burst into flames? I mean, what is that fire consuming?

  15. I love all the superheroes, but there’s something about Batman that I’ve always liked – he was just an ordinary man with extraordinary physical abilities and money to burn on gadgets that helped him fight crime. There is not one specific moment in the stories that stands out, but the whole concept of real life tools is what fascinated me – like that belt mounted grappling hook, the Kevlar bullet proof vest and mask (and, in the Dark Knight movie, I liked the addition of the cape that became rigid when electricity was applied. That was brilliant!).

  16. Ok I wanna see an article in this book that talks about the portals to other dimensions that can’t be accessed without becoming really really small. And the way that the Micronauts got small and shunted their mass into other dimensions.

  17. The comic phenomenon that has always made me wonder is the ability of the Green Lantern to make his green energy “beams” take physical shape and solidity. Could his lantern and ring combo be tapping into the Higgs boson somehow?

  18. I remember reading the OMAC comic books and how OMAC received his powers from an orbiting satellite. It is interesting how technology was used to increase his powers and how that mirrors some of the current military tech.

  19. Magneto is not only a master of physics, genetics, and electronic engineering, but he can create and control electromagnetic fields, which basically makes him a certifiable physics badass by definition.

  20. In the late 70’s, Radio Shack put out a Superman comic book where a Bad Guy ™ disables some of Superman’s powers with a kryptonite-spewing tornado,and the Man of Steel is forced to rely on some teenagers and their trusty TRS-80 to compute his formula for heat vision (and a couple other powers…cold breath?)for him.

  21. Like someone else said I always wondered where all the energy for these powers come from. If it’s internal how do they not wear themselves out and if it’s external then what are they using.

  22. I think one of the better physics moments in Comic history is the Principle of Thor’s Hammer not being able to be picked up by anyone “Not Worthy” but the Hulk picking it up. Another aspect that works is Batman’s inability to harness the power of the Green Lantern ring because of the “Fear” element or inability to move beyond fear but this is more of a psychological moment then a physics one.

  23. When Mr. Fantastic used the Nevada Gun to unleash the tremendous energies of an alternate universe’s Big Bang at Gah-Lak-Tus, destroying 20% of its mass and driving it off.

  24. I imagine that the very presence of Galctus would be enough to cause some serious tidal problems (among other things) on the planet he’s about to devour. Did he ever tangle with Ego? I’d like to see that match.

  25. at the end of house of m when all the mutants lost their powers, someone made the comment to the effect of “what happened to all that energy that mutants controlled? it didn’t just disappear” i loved that the they kept the fact that energy could not be destroyed (although they were mum on where it came from).

  26. Colossus’ organic steel skin. It’s total bunkum but the idea of a circulatory system made of tensile steel always fascinated me:)

  27. When superman threatens to boil the ocean (how many kcals would that take?), and rip the planet asunder and spread it all over the universe in the For Tomorrow series.

  28. How about the physics of the creation of Dr. Manhattan? And didn’t he live in all points of time at once or something like that? I may be confusing that with something else.

  29. While no specific instance comes to mind, the super strong, indestructible, super hero who stops a train on a dime by standing on the tracks and getting run into. Where is the physics in that? That energy has to go somewhere – it isn’t getting transformed 90 degrees into the ground…

  30. I like how they at least explain that if he doesn’t do it right, he’ll end up in the wrong place or even stuck in some solid structure.

    PS the writer of the giveaway book teaches at my university! He’s pretty cool.

    1. The Negative Zone (from Fantastic Four). All those asteroids crashing into the negative-Earth and being atomized.

  31. Issue #25 of the XMEN had a very awesome part in it. NO I am not talking about Wolverine loosing his Adamantium. In the begining of the comic, Magneto, after muttering a prayer to a god he no longer believes in he focuses his power on the Earth and causes a planet wide electro magnetic pulse that shuts down the entire planet. Sorry, in my book that is WAY cooler than ripping metal out of a Five foot berserker. In previous books it was said that Magneto’s ability is near perfectly attuned to the magnetic field of Earth. That is my physics moment, nothing cooler than weilding the power of an entire planet.

  32. There was a comic called Atari force that I always liked the power the main character had of being able to open portals where he could dive through or just send a body part through or whatever. They were wormholes and I have always been intrigued by wormholes ever since.

  33. How can he run so fast without… well, without so many things! The friction of his feet should cause fire or *something* in my head, he should cease to be solid, and in general… just… how? O_o;;

  34. I think my favorite physics moment is when superman flies so fast around the world he reverses time. Explain that one???? lol

  35. I like the Flash as a character. Sure he can just move fast, but the tricks that he can do because of that speed have always fascinated me – running on water, catching bullets, phasing through walls, and of course traveling through time using the treadmill. :) Of those, the running on water seems the most realistic of the bunch, though I never quite understood how he got traction or what would happen if he stopped. And of course, it all boils down to the “Speed Force” for DC (or did when I last read a Flash comic).

    This looks like a neat read.

    Kind of a shame that we can’t use cartoons because the whole Road Runner/Coyote series is worthy of a lot of comments.

  36. My favorite Superhero physics moment is when the X-Men decided to attack Asteroid M, Magneto’s getaway for all the good little mutant boys and girls. It was when Storm was to envelop the team in a bubble of wind, fly them to the surface of the asteroid and Wolverine sliced open the rock.

    I’ve always found it interesting that a weather manipulating mutant was able to channel hurricane-force winds in the void of space and fly the team around as if it could really be done. I won’t get into the thickness of the asteroid’s walls and Wolverines cutting implements… :)

  37. Don Rosa explored the effects of anti-inertia and anti-friction using two ray guns in the Uncle Scrooge story: “Cash Flow”. It really made you think how useful inertia and friction really is.

  38. It’s got to be the Watchmen, not the obvious Dr Manhatten, but Rorschach.
    Rorschach for me at least, is akin to MacGyver – (My all time hero) in that he uses science to defeat his foes.
    Improvising a flamethrower from combustable spray, finding a hidden cupboard due to physical size discrepancy, creating rope handcuffs from his shirt, and electricity flowing through dirty water.

  39. Oh wait, I read this wrong. My favorite is how Wolverine actually shows his claws and then retracks them. How does his skin heal so fast? How does his wrist bend with such long claws inside his arms?

  40. Finally, with this I can figure out how to give myself super powers. OK, OK so I might just have a better understanding of physics and be entertained while learning. Still cool.

  41. Of course, its the spiderman’s special talent of webbing – Imagine how the world will be if each one of us (or at least few) have it?

  42. My favorite physic moments are in Daredevil. All of his fights, with all his gymnastic moves, every move is a quick physics calculation. Plus the whole baton throwing and it comes back to him after hitting a guy is awesome (and physics!).

  43. I’ve always wanted to know how it is that Batman can breate in space. I’m sure if you asked him how, he’d just say “I’m Batman”

  44. In the Fatal Attractions crossover storyline in early 90s, Magneto removes Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton as a kind of ferrofluid, despite the fact that adamantium can’t be re-melted. That’s when we discover the claws are bone (I think that’s when it is), which makes the claw thing even more strange. Then, the craziness continues when they try to re-bond the adamantium with his skeleton. Generally, just an amusingly odd storyline.

  45. Check out a real person’s physical “strength” in a “Kinetic Person’s Power”,Sub Titled:”Voice Command Ability”,By:Kenneth Adrian Ellis. I hold a Certificate Of Copyright from the Library Of Congress for video footage on which I perform kinesis(special power)! The “strength” in is the area of parapsychology! View my professional http://www.YouTube.com Author Display video, just search: Kenneth A Ellis, then look at my on-line Press Release @ http://www.prlog.org/10285981. God Bless for allowing this posting!

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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