In the middle of last semester, a group of us got together as the Distinguished Visiting Scholar committee (henceforth called DVS). We were all given the task to pick out two scholars we would like to hear give a lecture on campus. I found this task to be daunting. I had a hard time coming up with physicists/mathematicians I would like to hear speak. Then one of my high school friends told me about James Kakalios, a professor at the University of Minnesota who teaches a freshmen seminar class entitled “Everything I needed to know about physics I learned from reading Comic Books.” Now, you probably don’t know this about me, but I absolutely love comic books, and I’m a physics major. To me, this lecture seemed perfect.
So, I sat down and with the help of the DVS committee, I wrote a letter to him, asking him to come to campus and give a lecture based on his book The Physics of Superheroes. He e-mailed me back during our winter break, asking me if the opportunity was still available. We arranged for him to come visit and give a lecture on March 16.
Thinking that the opportunity was too good to pass up, I asked Professor Kakalios if he would be willing to give an extra lecture on his research (yes, he is an actual physicist too!) for the physics department the day before his superheroes lecture. To which he agreed.
The day that Professor Kakalios finally got to campus I was really worried. I am very nervous about meeting new people. As I was walking to my last class of the day, I happened upon Professor Kakalios standing in Howard Hall. I nervously headed over to him and introduced myself. We shared a few pleasantries and I went on to my class. While I then believed that he was a kind man, I was worried that no one would come to the lecture, or worse, that it would go over poorly.
Before his superhero lecture, the Pamplin Society put a small dinner on for the society and members of the physics department. At the dinner, I listened to Kakalios tell stories about the comic book store he used to visit across from his elementary school. I was totally enamored with him. He even wore a tie portraying my favourite super heroes, the Fantastic Four.
The lecture started and the audience was met with many great comic references that contain actual physics concepts. My personal favourite from the lecture was how Kitty Pryde’s superpower can be related to electron tunneling. Quantum mechanics tells us that there is a certain probability that an electron under proper circumstances can pass through a “solid” barrier without disturbing the barrier or itself. This probability is found through the use of Schrödinger’s Equation. So, Kitty Pryde’s mutant power can be viewed as the power to alter her quantum wave function, making the probability of her being able to “tunnel” through the wall 100%, and therefore passing through the wall.
I think that it is obvious that I am not the only one who enjoyed the lecture. Throughout the lecture, I could hear my professors and peers laughing at Kakalios’s various jokes.
Overall, I thought that the lecture went well. And more than just going well, I learned a lot about how putting on a lecture on campus goes. I have learned a lot about what we should do differently next year and what we should keep the same.