- Paperback: 424 pages
- Publisher: Avery Pub Group; Original edition (3 November 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1592405088
- ISBN-13: 978-1592405084
- Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 170,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Physics of Superheroes Paperback – 3 Nov 2009
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About the Author
James Kakalios is a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught since 1988, and where his class "Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books" is a popular freshman seminar. He received his Ph.D. in 1985 from the University of Chicago, and has been reading comic books for much longer.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Like the Physics of Star Trek, the author cleverly teaches traditional physics while evaluating comic book super heroes relating what is and what is not possible according to the theories of basic physics.
This book is organized into four sections: the first section covers mechanics such as forces and motion, Newton’s law of gravity, special relativity and other topics. Section two focuses on heat and light where he explains the three laws of thermodynamics, electrical currents and other subjects. The third part explains modern physics such as atomic physics, Quantum mechanics, tunneling phenomena and solid-state physics. The final section asks the question “what have we learned? This part is essential reading if you want to better understand key equations and further reading on this subject. This section also has a detailed notes section on each chapter.
If you are into comic book superheroes and would like to learn the possible real life physics behind some of the amazing abilities of superheroes this book is for you.
Rating: 5 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Training alone in Combatives and self-defense)
For a student, it is actually the perfect kind of book to read before you take a class in physics because it is rigorous enough that you will actually learn the material, and presented in a fun enough way that the concepts are more likely to stick with you. It is not a book that I would say will ever help you pass a physics exam or assist in solving homework problems, but it will give you the all-important base of knowledge and understanding of the concepts you need when you do get to the point where the math, and working out the problems is critical.
Having said that, I think there is a mistake in this book. The first chapter is about the original version of Superman, who is merely really strong because he grew up on Krpton and Krypton has much stronger gravity on Earth. The original Superman did not have the ability to fly or X-Ray vision or anything like that. So the question is: how strong must Superman be - and how strong must Krpton's gravity be - for Superman to leap a tall building in a single bound? We do know that the original Superman could leap an eighth of a mile high. That's 660 feet high. Then he does some physics to get the answer.
Here comes the math (7% on the Kindle)
Kakalios uses the formula v^2 = 2gh to conclude that Superman's initial velocity must be 200 feet per second (that's 140 miles per hour). Now, how much force must Superman's legs generate to accelerate to that speed? Well, assume that Superman's jump - the part while he was pushing off the ground - took a quarter second. Then he'd have to accelerate at 800 feet per second per second.
Now Kakalios switches to meters. An acceleration of 800 feet/s/s is about 250 meters per second per second. Assume Superman is a relatively big guy who weighs 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and we have a total force of 25,000 Newtons. Translate back to English measurements and that works out to 5,600 pounds. Now, that's how much force Superman can generate when he's jumping as hard as he can. If he's just standing around then he'd probably only be putting out about 70% of that. So that means that Superman's weight on Krpton must be 3300 pounds, which is 15 times his earthly weight of 220 pounds. In conclusion, Krypton's gravity and Superman's strength must be about 15 times that of a regular human being.
That seemed way to low for me. So I checked his numbers and I disagree with Kakalios' simplifying assumption that Superman will spend a quarter second pushing off the earth at the start of his jump. I think that is quite wrong. Here's why. Remember that if the "push" phase of the jump takes a quarter second then Superman's acceleration must be 250 m/s/s. Then we can use the following formula and plug in acceleration of 250 and time of 1/4th.
distance = 1/2 acceleration * time^2
distance = 1/2 (250) (1/4)^2
distance = 125 (1/16)
distance = 7.8 meters
That means that for the quarter second that Superman is pushing against the Earth with his legs, he has travelled 7.8 meters. He couldn't do that unless he is also plastic man and can keep stretching his legs!
Kakalios came up with his estimates based on the assumption of a quarter second to jump. I think a better estimate is a half meter to jump (if you bend at the knees to jump, then at the lowest point you'll drop about a half meter). So if you assume that Superman has a half meter to accelerate to 205 feet per second instead of 7.8 meters, then you conclude that Superman must accelerate much, much faster. And that means he needs a much larger force. I will spare you the rest of the math, but my calculations worked out such that Superman is 330 times stronger than a man who can do a 24 inch vertical leap (which is an above average vertical leap).
I'd be curious if other reviewers would be interested in double checking my work. I think my analysis is correct, but as I said at the beginning of the review, my high school physics is pretty rusty. I could easily be missing something here!
I do want to conclude on one point that I hope is obvious, which is that Kakalios really gets you thinking about the physics of Superheroes. I enjoyed delving into Kakalios' work and look forwards to the rest of the book. It is fascinating and stimulating stuff and I've thoroughly enjoyed it.
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