The Physics of Watchmen

The big new superhero movie Watchmen has a connection to the University of Minnesota physics department.  How?  Why, through Prof. Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes, of course!
Prof. Kakalios served as the science consultant for the movie, based on a graphic novel (that I had never heard of).  For a taste of how he extracts real science from obviously fantastical storylines, check the youtube video below:

Rather than simply blowing off the fantasy as incorrect science, why not use it as a jumping off point to talk about some real interesting phenomena?  Depending on your taste, it may seem a little contrived, but it’s all about appealing to a certain audience.  You’ve already gotten their attention — they think the stuff going on in the comic book is cool — so use that hook to get them interested in a similar real phenomenon.

And, if nothing else, as Prof. Kakalios says, it removes the pesky question of how all this stuff relates to real life.  It doesn’t have to — it’s a comic book!

Of course, you have to be careful not to get carried away with this in a classroom setting.  Although some students will enjoy the comic books, others will be turned off by too much of it.  Also, problems involving superheroes take an important tool away from the students’ arsenal: common sense.  If you have a person running, and you’re calculating a velocity, you know what a reasonable value is.  But how fast can Superman fly?  How much can the Hulk lift?  No answer you get will seem unreasonable, so you won’t know whether to second-guess your answer.  For this reason, Prof. Kakalios has had to reduce the number of problems involving comic book characters from what he used to do.

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