Marvel’s Iron Man, performed by Robert Downey Jr., served as a leaping off level for a dialogue of bioengineering.
‘Everybody genuinely enjoys the lectures and needs to return and hear,’ mentioned Chloe Raichle ’23
You could be stunned to know that one in all Princeton’s most superior science lessons typically begins with a couple of minutes of a Marvel or DC film. The extraordinary abilities and skills of superheroes and different unbelievable creatures have been the inspiration behind Shane Campbell-Staton’s class, The Biology of Superheroes: Exploring the Limits of Type and Perform, new to Princeton this spring.
“We use comedian books, superheroes, [and] science fiction as thought experiments to discover the mechanisms of life, excessive adaptation, biologically impressed engineering, brain-machine interfacing … [a] fairly broad array of topics,” defined Campbell-Staton, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB).
His twin passions of science and superheroes first melded when he obtained hooked on comedian books as a graduate pupil. At night time, Campbell-Staton mentioned, he had “phenomenally unusual goals,” the place the comedian books meshed with tutorial papers he was studying “in all of those bizarre methods.”
The outcomes have been this course, which he first ran at UCLA, earlier than coming to Princeton in 2021, and a podcast, “The Biology of Superheroes,” which he co-hosts with Arien Darby, a senior international model supervisor at Warner Bros. They’re engaged on season two, coming later this 12 months.
The 24 EEB majors within the class met twice per week in Schultz Laboratory.
“Typically, hour-and-a-half lectures at 8:30 within the morning will be fairly dry,” mentioned Chloe Raichle ’23. “However the attendance [for this course] has truly been unbelievable as a result of everybody genuinely enjoys the lectures and needs to return and hear.”
Not solely does Campbell-Staton use in-depth examples from common comics, films like Jurassic Park, and even the 2023 hit HBO drama collection The Final of Us to show various scientific ideas, however he additionally investigates associated sociological and moral impacts. For instance, Justice League superhero Cyborg and Tony Stark of Iron Man served as leaping off factors for a dialogue on bioengineering, its limitations, invasive interfaces, and psychological unintended effects.
“I wasn’t anticipating such a broad synthesis of all these totally different scientific subjects, however I actually recognize that,” mentioned Claire Galat ’23. “It’s been very useful to mix every part I’ve realized.”
For the midterm, every pupil wrote a paper synthesizing a scientific concept that stemmed from a fictional organic phenomenon.
“So long as the scientific ideas have been superior sufficient, and so long as we have been placing sufficient detailed work into it, we had a whole lot of freedom to do what we wished,” mentioned Raichle, who wrote concerning the 1982 horror movie The Factor to discover shape-shifting and regeneration.
For the ultimate, college students labored in teams to conduct one other thought experiment, although Campbell-Staton requested them to provide you with extra inventive codecs for his or her completed merchandise — even perhaps a comic book ebook.