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Cool Courses Superman

Image credit: DC Comics

Cool Courses Students Love: Superheroes, CSI, ‘Game of Thrones’ & More


What do superheroes like Superman, Wolverine and the Flash have in common with the popular television crime drama CSI, fantasy tales such as Harry Potter, taking part in a Model United Nations, and a new approach to history through an analysis of how war and science combine to influence societies? All are the focus of some creative courses taught on campus.

Cool Courses NewbyIn “The Physics of Superheroes,” physics professor Dr. Emily Maher teaches students to use basic physics principles such as mechanics, energy, and quantum mechanics to model and explain the powers and events that her students read about in comic books, sci-fi novels, and fantasy novels. This means looking at the ways that the Flash and Quicksilver travel, and the physical effects that Wolverine feels as he morphs, due to the admantium that covers his bones.

“Superman is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. We use kinematics to determine how fast he needs to leave the ground to do this,” Maher explained. “Then we use this speed and Newton’s Laws to determine how much force he is applying to make this jump. Using this force and Newton’s Law of Gravitation, we can determine the characteristics of his home planet, Krypton.”

Not long after he arrived on campus in 2006, chemistry professor Dr. Rob Harris decided to create a course for non-science majors. His thought was, why not design a course that would combine something some found daunting – chemistry – with the popular CSI television show?

Cool Class CuperyFor the past 11 years, “The Chemistry of CSI” – which will feature a new lab component this spring semester – continues to in demand. Case studies and CSI episodes explore the scientific foundation for the examination of physical, chemical and biological evidence through forensic techniques: students particularly enjoy the blood spatter exercise and the fingerprinting demos.

“People love mysteries and crime solving. During the course we discuss historical and current cases, and what forensics techniques are used to help solve the case,” said Harris. “Students excited about the forensics in the class do not mind learning about the chemistry behind it.”

 Students also enjoy a literature course that looks at the fantasy genre, taught by Kelli Newby (top right), an adjunct professor in English/Communications. “Fantasy fiction is wildly popular in the world outside of MCLA. I probably owe much of the success of my class to Harry Potter and Game of Thrones,” she said. “Students enjoy taking a course about something they already love, and I use their built-in enthusiasm to explore everything from lit theory to the history of the genre.”

Cool Class DalyThose who take assistant professor Dr. David Cupery’s (middle, right) political science “Model United Nations” course not only discover what it’s like to take on the role of world leaders; they do so with students from a wide range of other colleges and universities. As they work on public speaking, “Students get to tackle important global issues with creative twists and they do so at high-profile, fast-paced conference in Toronto, one of North America’s most cosmopolitan cities,” he said.

The first of several new courses the history department will introduce in the next 18 months, Dr. Anthony Daly’s “War, Science and Society” takes a new approach to studying history.

“The focus is on developing students' skills as historians – finding and analyzing information to try and comprehend what happened in the past. Topics we have been looking at include atomic energy, antibiotics, and radar,” explained Daly (bottom, right).  

“One of the great things about teaching at MCLA is the opportunity to teach new courses that I find exciting and challenging.”