Superheroes in the classroom

News - 18 December 2018 - Webredactie 3ME

The superhero genre can be used as a powerful platform for the communication of physics concepts in the classroom, as outlined by Barry W. Fitzgerald and professor Johan Padding (both department Process and Energy at 3mE) in their article ‘Superheroes in the classroom’  in het Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Natuurkunde, which has been published this month. In this context Barry Fitzgerald also published his recent paper ‘Exploring the electromagnetic spectrum with superheroes’ in the journal Physics Education.

Barry Fitzgerald
Johan Padding

Linear motion and advanced materials
In the paper ‘Superhelden in de klas’, the authors Fitzgerald and Padding outline how superheroes can be used to support learning objectives in physics. First, they describe how Hawkeye’s ability as a master archer can be used in lessons on linear motion. In particular, they focus on one scene from The Avengers (2012) where Hawkeye fires an arrow at the villain Loki during a key battle. Second, they outline how Colossus, a character who can create an impenetrable silver-coloured layer over his skin, can motivate lessons on advanced materials such as graphene. 

Drag Force for Iron Man
The authors then describe how research at TU Delft by Sathish Sanjeevi and Padding on expressions for the drag force experienced by non-spherical particles could be of relevance for Tony Stark and the Iron Man suit. Specifically, the authors suggest how Sanjeevi and Padding’s expression for the drag force coefficient could be used in Iron Man suit to help in the calculation of the drag force acting on the suit during flight. Read here ‘Superheroes in the classroom'. (Dutch) 

Superhero Science and Technology
Finally, the authors highlight the open access journal Superhero Science and Technology, which Fitzgerald established at TU Delft last year. Some of the papers in the journal are briefly described and suggested for inclusion in physics lessons. Read more here

Supergirl and UV radiation
Barry Fitzgerald’s most recent paper ‘Exploring the electromagnetic spectrum with superheroes’ has been published in the journal Physics Education. In the paper, Fitzgerald uses Supergirl as a theme to explain the different types of UV radiation and highlight common misconceptions with UV radiation. Supergirl is one of the most powerful characters in DC comics and possesses a range of extraordinary powers, which Fitzgerald argues to be associated with ultraviolet radiation. “Just like the human population of Earth, Supergirl’s body interact with visible light, IR radiation and UV radiation from the Sun,” says Fitzgerald. However, given that Supergirl is an alien from Krypton, UV radiation interacts with her cells in a different way to human cells. For you or me, over exposure to UV radiation can lead to skin cancer or inflammation of the cornea, for instance.

The Hulk and gamma rays
Fitzgerald also uses Bruce Banner, otherwise known as the Hulk, to highlight misconceptions associated with gamma rays. In Marvel Comics, Bruce Banner acquired the ability to transform into the Hulk after exposure to large dose of gamma rays. “Therefore, rather than surviving such an exposure and becoming the Hulk, Banner should have died within 48 h of hospitalisation,” notes Fitzgerald. Similar to Supergirl and UV radiation, Fitzgerald outlines a set of possible student misconceptions on gamma rays.

Worksheet on Captain America and vita rays
The final superhero considered in the paper is Steve Rogers or Captain America, who was transformed into a super-soldier after exposure to vita rays, a fictional form of radiation. Fitzgerald presents a worksheet based on Captain America and vita rays that can be used in conjunction with lessons on EM radiation. Fitzgerald suggests that the “worksheet can be utilised to motivate reflective and critical thinking on the part of the student, as a revision tool for EM radiation, and allow the students to ‘think outside the box’ on an interesting and stimulating topic from popular culture.” Fitzgerald hopes that educators will be interested in implementing this resource in the classroom and is keen to collaborate with educators on a study in relation to the effectiveness of these materials. 

Read Exploring the electromagnetic spectrum with superheroes