[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 15-Feb-2004
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Contact: Monica Amarelo
mamarelo@aaas.org
206 -774-6330
American Association for the Advancement of Science

Three personal ads for physics

SEATTLE, WA 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 today at the 2004 AAAS (Triple-A-S) Annual Meeting may hook you on physics.

The educators and authors tackle 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.

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The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves some 265 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

Additional news from the AAAS Annual Meeting may be found online at www.eurekalert.org.

MEDIA NOTE: A news briefing on this research will take place at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time, Sunday, 15 February, during the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle, in the Eliza Anderson Amphitheater, Grand Hyatt Hotel. Further, these and other speakers will take part in a symposium titled, "Pop Physics: The Interface Between Hard Science and Popular Culture," at 11:00 a.m. Sunday, 15 February, in the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, Sixth Level, Room 612.

Press registration is located in the AAAS Press Center in Leonesa I of the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society, dedicated to "Advancing science Serving society."



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