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Media Advisory

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U of M physics professor Jim Kakalios created the "Decay Rate Algorithm" featured in Sony's film The Amazing Spider-Man.

U of M professor delivers the science of Spider-Man

Physics professor Jim Kakalios, a science consultant for the new Sony film The Amazing Spider-Man, explains the real science behind the Decay Rate Algorithm

Media Note: “Spider-Man and the Decay Rate Algorithm” can be viewed at: http://z.umn.edu/spiderman.

Contacts: Rhonda Zurn, College of Science and Engineering, rzurn@umn.edu, (612) 626-7959
Matt Hodson, University News Service, mjhodson@umn.edu, (612) 625-0552

June 28, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (06/28/2012) – If you find yourself on the edge of your movie theater seat while watching the new Sony film The Amazing Spider-Man, chances are you are fully engrossed in the movie’s fantastic world – a believable fake reality made possible by the expertise of Jim Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota and one of the scientific consultants on the film.

Kakalios discusses the impetus behind the film’s hallmark mathematical equation in the new University of Minnesota video “Spider-Man and the Decay Rate Algorithm.”

The Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy within the university’s College of Science and Engineering, Kakalios previously served as a scientific consultant on Warner Brothers’ 2009 film Watchmen. He is also the author of The Physics of Superheroes and The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics.

Through the National Academy of Science’s Science and Entertainment Exchange program, Kakalios consulted with filmmakers for The Amazing Spider-Man on the physics behind two of the superhero’s most important traits: wall crawling and the tensile strength of spider’s webbing.

Kakalios’ most important contribution, however, came when film prop master Andy Siegel needed a mathematical expression so distinctive and memorable that the audience would recognize it at various points throughout the movie. The result was the “Decay Rate Algorithm,” an equation relating to cell regeneration and human mortality.

Used by both the Peter Parker and Curt Connors characters, the Decay Rate Algorithm is a combination of the real science found in the Gompertz Equation and the Reliability Theory of Aging and Longevity. Based on a “death lottery” which everyone wins, the algorithm provides a mathematical explanation for how single defective cells multiply against the weakened immune system of an aging body and become fatal, a theory proposed by Kakalios’ university colleague, Professor Boris Shklovskii.

Behind Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and behind Peter Parker is some real and interesting science in the guise of the Decay Rate Algorithm. While the equation won’t turn you into a giant lizard (Spoiler Alert!), Kakalios’ equation for the movie has enough scientific foundation to maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man is set for release July 3.

Tags: College of Science and Engineering

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Jim Kakalios

College of Science and Engineering

"Spider-Man and the Decay Rate Algorithm"

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN