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Virtual Science Festival to feature ‘Physics of Superheroes’ author

James Kakalios is the 2020 Science Festival keynote speaker.

James Kakalios is the 2021 Science Festival keynote speaker.

Randolph College’s 2021 Science Festival kicks off next week with a series of virtual events.

Author James Kakalios, originally scheduled to appear at SciFest in 2020, will give the keynote address at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 25.

During “The Uncanny Physics of Superhero Comic Books,” he’ll discuss how the stories can be used to illustrate fundamental principles of physics—like how Spider-Man clings to walls or why the Flash becomes heavier as he tries to run at the speed of light.

Kakalios first developed an interest in these types of questions in 2001 while creating a freshman seminar class at the University of Minnesota, where he’s a physics professor. The course covered topics ranging from Isaac Newton to the transistor, but all of his examples came from superhero tales.

The class eventually led to the release of his book, The Physics of Superheroes, in 2005, followed a few years later by the Spectacular Second Edition. He also served as a science consultant on the superhero films Watchmen (2009) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

SciFest continues throughout the weekend of March 25, with its regular schedule of events, as well as a few new additions. Some highlights include:

  • An artist talk from Erika Blumenfeld, whose work is included in the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College’s latest exhibition, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 24. She will discuss her transdisciplinary work, including Astromaterials 3D, a virtual library for exploration and research of NASA’s space rock collections, and Encyclopedia of Trajectories, which documents meteor activity in painterly, gestural form.
  • Lunch & Learn with Blair Gross, Randolph psychology professor, from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, March 25. Gross will share her research looking at how social environments shape basic cognitive processes, like how distances look farther and hills steeper when we are physically exhausted.
  • Women in Science Panel from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 26, featuring Debra Daugherty ’85, a health communication specialist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Michaela Phillips ’17 ’19 M.A.T., a science teacher with Culpeper County Public Schools; and Laura Taylor ’13, an environmental engineer postdoc at the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The SciFest Poetry Jam Reading and Awards Ceremony, which highlights the work of local K-12 students, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 26.
  • A Scientist Goes to the Movies: Black Panther, with math professor Marc Ordower once again providing commentary, at 8 p.m. Friday, March 26.
  • Science Day for Little Scientists and Science Day for 3rd-6th Graders on Saturday, March 27.
  • The Maker Faire of Lynchburg on Sunday, March 28
  • A Science + Art Saturdays Reception, recognizing our 2019 scholars, from 2 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 28.

The full schedule, with registration information and links to individual sessions, can be found at

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