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Naseed Gifted: Saving Gwen Stacy in physics class

An overlooked presentation from this year’s New York Comic Con.

“There is a great need here in the U.S. for educators to get students interested in the STEM fields,” said engineer and physics teacher Naseed Gifted to an attentive audience at the New York Public Library. The crowd was mostly filled with other educators looking for new ways to engage their students, but this wasn’t your typical professional development seminar — it was New York Comic Con.

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Gifted’s presentation, “How Spider-Man Taught Me My First Physics Lesson,” was part of an entire day of material made to be useful for geek-leaning educators and librarians at this year’s NYCC, and explained how it was (believe it or not) the Amazing Spider-Man movies that helped give him one of the best insights into Newtonian mechanics, when he transitioned to teaching physics.

“The one thing [students] are missing is that college readiness in the mathematics,” Gifted said, and if anything can spark an interest, it’s the death of Gwen Stacy.

Sony Pictures

Sure, the physics of what killed her, whether in comic issue Amazing Spider-Man #121 or the maligned film Amazing Spider-Man 2, has been done a lot. Gifted calculated, using Isaac Newton’s second law of motion, F=ma, that if Gwen fell from a 500-foot building and was “saved” by a web line 100 feet off the ground, she would be subjected to a force of 10G’s, or 10 times what’s produced by Earth’s gravity, during the sudden stop. Not much difference from hitting the ground, at that point.

But how many people then ask, as Gifted did here, “Now how do we save her?” He introduced the idea of impulse, the change in momentum, noting that a more gradual deceleration would be more appropriate, and more likely to avoid the dreaded *snap.* So Spidey would be better off maybe making a web parachute or, as one audience member suggested, using multiple web lines to spread out where the force is applied.

And forget Superman making his dead-stop, mid-air rescues, too.

Marvel Comics

“He’s actually bringing the ground closer to them,” Gifted said of those he “saves.”

Naseed Gifted is currently the principal of Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark, New Jersey, and is the writer of the comic P.B. Soldier, which teaches STEM skills through its protagonist, computer hacker Nat Cummings.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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