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Pop-Culture Basis of New Efforts to Attract Public to Physics
Strong, dynamic, grounded-yet-abstract, animated, and relationship-oriented field of study in search of eager students for short- or long-term learning relationship. Interested? Intrigued? Ready to Learn? If so, then one of the advertisements written or videotaped by the participants in the "Pop Physics" symposium on 15 February during the 2004 AAAS Annual Meeting may hook you on physics.
The educators and authors tackled audiences with the physics of football, catch students in analyses of a Spider Man's web and entrance readers with novels infused with science - all in the name of sharing physics with the world.
During home games, the football stadium at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln transforms into the third-largest city in the state and the largest physics classroom in the world. Giant television screens show tackling, kicking and punting while physics professor Timothy Gay introduces the crowd to such physics wonders as Newton's Laws of Motion.
"Football fans love to see big hits," said Gay, who uses the physical nature of football to tackle public fear of physics.
Gay also writes and appears in television programs that familiarize viewers from around the world with the game of American football. He is one of the "pop physics" experts appearing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.
Chemical physicist and author Catherine Asaro injects physics into games of the heart that are played out on the field of fiction. Asaro structured a relationship-oriented, romance novel around quantum physics, for example. With more time than can be allotted to football-halftime shows, she draws her readers into plots lined with science. "Readers are more willing to embrace science if the science impacts the character," Asaro said.
"People don't usually write about both the emotions tied to love and the intellectual details of science," Asaro explained. "It's usually one or the other."
The final participant adds a definitive pop to the "Pop Physics" symposium. In his freshman seminar, called "Physics of Comic Books," he asks questions like: "If you could run as fast as the Flash, how frequently would you need to eat?"
Professor James Kakalios illustrates physics principles through superhero comics. "I believe that there is a large, untapped interest in science in the general public, and as a professor, I hope to continue to share with this audience the pleasure that comes from seeing that the world is a knowable place," said Kakalios.
He asks his students to consider the science performed by superheroes, including the physics of a tragic love story - the death of Spider Man's girlfriend. Through years of teaching, Kakalios learned to make physics real for students by operating inside the comic-book world. He has abandoned the kinds of "real world" examples that cause anyone who has ever taken a physics class to cringe.
"I've never had to shoot an arrow at a 45-degree angle off a cliff and measure the time it takes to hit the ground," Kakalios admitted.
And while this example may resonate for the archery team, Kakalios has found that his students prefer to figure out if Spider Man's webbing could support his weight if it were as strong as a real spider's silk.
Once the concepts are introduced, to answer fun questions, Kakalios explains their real-world applications to automobile airbags, cell phones, nanotechnology and black hole formation.
Kakalios tries to avoid bland examples that involve the infamous likes of "a 60 kg woman getting on 10 kg wagons filled with 5 kg bricks," unless he's talking about Wonder Woman.
16 February 2004