• Wed. May 31st, 2023

Class Close Up: Exploring the Science of Superheroes


May 26, 2023

Marvel’s Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr., served as a jumping off point for a discussion of bioengineering.

Photo: Alamy

‘Everyone genuinely enjoys the lectures and desires to come and listen,’ stated Chloe Raichle ’23

You may well be shocked to know that 1 of Princeton’s most sophisticated science classes generally begins with a couple of minutes of a Marvel or DC film. The extraordinary expertise and skills of superheroes and other excellent creatures had been the inspiration behind Shane Campbell-Staton’s class, The Biology of Superheroes: Exploring the Limits of Type and Function, new to Princeton this spring.

“We use comic books, superheroes, [and] science fiction as believed experiments to discover the mechanisms of life, intense adaptation, biologically inspired engineering, brain-machine interfacing … [a] quite broad array of subjects,” explained Campbell-Staton, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB).

His twin passions of science and superheroes initial melded when he got hooked on comic books as a graduate student. At evening, Campbell-Staton stated, he had “phenomenally strange dreams,” exactly where the comic books meshed with academic papers he was reading “in all of these weird approaches.”

The benefits had been this course, which he initial ran at UCLA, just before coming to Princeton in 2021, and a podcast, “The Biology of Superheroes,” which he co-hosts with Arien Darby, a senior worldwide brand manager at Warner Bros. They’re operating on season two, coming later this year.

The 24 EEB majors in the class met twice a week in Schultz Laboratory.

“Often, hour-and-a-half lectures at eight:30 in the morning can be quite dry,” stated Chloe Raichle ’23. “But the attendance [for this course] has in fact been excellent mainly because absolutely everyone genuinely enjoys the lectures and desires to come and listen.”

Not only does Campbell-Staton use in-depth examples from preferred comics, films like Jurassic Park, and even the 2023 hit HBO drama series The Final of Us to teach diverse scientific ideas, but he also investigates connected sociological and ethical impacts. For instance, Justice League superhero Cyborg and Tony Stark of Iron Man served as jumping off points for a discussion on bioengineering, its limitations, invasive interfaces, and psychological side effects.

“I wasn’t expecting such a broad synthesis of all these distinct scientific subjects, but I genuinely appreciate that,” stated Claire Galat ’23. “It’s been quite valuable to combine all the things I’ve discovered.”

For the midterm, each and every student wrote a paper synthesizing a scientific theory that stemmed from a fictional biological phenomenon.

“As lengthy as the scientific ideas had been sophisticated adequate, and as lengthy as we had been placing adequate detailed function into it, we had a lot of freedom to do what we wanted,” stated Raichle, who wrote about the 1982 horror film The Point to discover shape-shifting and regeneration.

For the final, students worked in groups to conduct yet another believed experiment, although Campbell-Staton asked them to come up with far more inventive formats for their completed merchandise — maybe even a comic book.