The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics

Heather McElhatton

Part of A Beautiful World

James Kakalios, the author of "The Physics of Superheroes" returns with an accessible and math-free primer on quantum mechanics. Most of us are unaware of how much we depend on quantum mechanics on a day-to-day basis. Using examples from science fiction pulp magazines and comic books, The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics explains the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics that underlie the world we live in.

"Quantum Mechanics has a reputation for being incomprehensible and full of weird ideas. Well, the ideas are pretty weird, but it's definitely not impossible to understand."

In the pulp magazines and comics of the 1950s, it was predicted that the future would be one of gleaming utopias, with flying cars, jetpacks, and robotic personal assistants. Obviously, things didn't turn out that way. But the world we do have is actually more fantastic than the most outlandish predictions of the science fiction of the mid-twentieth century. The World Wide Web, pocket-sized computers, mobile phones, and MRI machines have changed the world in unimagined ways.

Complex ...Yet Clear
Kakalios takes complex ideas and makes them easy-to-understand. He explains how Quantum Mechanics is responsible for modern-day conveniences like lasers, transistor radios, CD players, laptop computers, iPods and television remote controls.

The book begins with an overview of speculative science fiction, beginning with Jules Verne and progressing through the space adventure comic books of the 1950s. Using the example of Dr. Manhattan from the graphic novel and film 'Watchmen', Kakalios explains the fundamentals of quantum mechanics and describes nuclear energy via the hilarious portrayals of radioactivity and its effects in the movies and comic books of the 1950s.

Hollywood Superhero Expert
When the creators of the 2009 Warner Bros. film 'Watchmen' asked the National Academy of Sciences for a consultant to help translate the graphic novel to the big screen, James Kakalios was the perfect fit. His science and superhero expertise helped background on the physics behind such super-powered characters as 'Watchmen''s Dr. Manhattan.

"At the end of the day, I'm not looking for a movie to be 100 percent scientifically accurate. But if they can do something right, it's like catching a little inside joke… And who knows? Maybe the audience will learn a little something about science."

More on James Kakalios
James Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota. Upon joining the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota in 1988, Kakalios has built up a research program in experimental condensed matter physics, with particular emphasis on complex and disordered systems.

In addition to his research efforts, Kakalios developed a popular Freshman Seminar at the University of Minnesota titled: "Everything I Know About Physics I Learned By Reading Comic Books," which led to his writing a popular science book "THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES" (Gotham Books,2005.) His second book, "THE AMAZING STORY OF QUANTUM MECHANICS," was published by Gotham Books in October 2010. He lives in Edina, Minnesota with his family.

*Photos courtesy of James Kakalios

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