Though superheroes are not real, the science behind their powers may be.
James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, has become a Hollywood consultant on the science of superheros. Most recently he worked on the highly anticipated “The Amazing Spiderman,” released in theaters tomorrow.
Moviegoers will note Kakalios’ unique “Decay Rate Algorithm” in the film, developed out of a real equation that involves increasing likelihood of death with age. He also assisted with Spiderman’s characteristic webbing and wall crawling, stating that he based this power off of Gecko lizards and their “version of static cling.”
As Kakalios explained to NPR’s Ira Flatow, he was called in to substantiate the science behind the film by the National Academy Of Sciences' Science and Entertainment Exchange Program. Kakalois said that, though the science in these films will never be perfect, the idea is that the films will get the science correct within their specific context.
“...Once you accept spider powers or people transforming into giant lizards, the other stuff that happened should be consistent, should be right, because it helps keep the audience in the story,” he said. “Anytime when they're questioning what they're seeing on-screen, even little things like, you know, a laboratory doesn't look like a real laboratory, is a moment when they're not paying attention to the story.”
Kakalios gained recognition in this niche-field after the publication of his “The Physics Of Superheros” (Gotham Books, 2005).
Warner Bros. hired Kakalios two years later as a science consultant for their film “Watchmen.” After the experience, he produced a short YouTube video in 2009 titled “Science of Watchmen” that has garnered over 1.6 million views since its release.
"At the end of the day, I'm not looking for a movie to be 100 percent scientifically accurate,” Kakalios writes on his website. “But if they can do something right, it's like catching a little inside joke… And who knows? Maybe the audience will learn a little something about science."
Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy and teaches a popular Freshman Seminar titled “Everything I know About Physics I Learned By Reading Comic Books.”