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2014 Public Engagement with Science Award

Award Recipient: James Kakalios


James Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy.  He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1985; worked as a post-doctoral research associate at the Xerox – Palo Alto Research Center; and then in 1988, having had enough of those California winters, joined the faculty of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota. His research interests include nanocrystalline and amorphous semiconductors, pattern formation in sandpiles and fluctuation phenomena in neurological systems.  He has been reading comic books longer than he has been studying physics.

In 2001 he created a Freshman Seminar class at the University of Minnesota entitled: "Everything I Know About Science I Learned from Reading Comic Books." This is a real physics class, that covers topics from Isaac Newton to the transistor, but there’s not an inclined plane or pulley in sight.  Rather, ALL the examples come from superhero comic books, and as much as possible, those cases where the superheroes get their physics right!

This class drew a great deal of media attention in 2002 with the release of the first Spider-Man film, and led to his writing a popular science book THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES.  Published in 2005 in the U.S. and the U.K., it has been translated into German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Italian. The SPECTACULAR SECOND EDITION was published in November 2009, and a new book THE AMAZING STORY OF QUANTUM MECHANICS was released in October 2010.

Using superheroes to describe physics principles has provided many and varied opportunities for outreach and to discuss science with the general public. In 2007, in response to a request from the National Academy of Sciences, Kakalios served as the science consultant for the Warner Bros. superhero film Watchmen.  In 2009 he filmed a short video on the Science of Watchmen, which has been viewed over 1.8 million times on (  This video won an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy award in 2009 and was nominated for a WEBBY award in 2010.  He also has done volunteer consulting for Warner Bros. Green Lantern and the 2012 Sony film The Amazing Spider-Man for which he provided a mathematical equation termed “The Decay Rate Algorithm”

(  He has given physics talks at the U.S. Library of Congress, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Comic-Con International in San Diego, California.

The AAAS Award for Public Engagement with Science, formerly the Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology, was established in 1987 and recognizes working scientists and engineers who make outstanding contributions to the “popularization of science.” 

Please click here for a list of past recipients.