Over the years, super­hero sto­ries have delighted mil­lions of fans through movies, tele­vi­sion shows and comic books. But these tales can also teach us a lesson in physics, according to physics pro­fessor and author James Kakalios.

In a lec­ture on Sunday to about 400 people who packed Northeastern’s Blackman Audi­to­rium, the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota pro­fessor explored the death of Gwen Stacy, a char­acter in a 1973 Spider-​​Man comic who meets her end in a fall from a tall bridge.

Many fans have ques­tioned whether she actu­ally died from the fall itself, or from Spider-Man’s web­bing, which caught her fall. Kakalios, who sported a Spider-​​Man tie, set­tled the debate.

By cal­cu­lating Stacy’s down­ward speed and the force needed to stop her fall in a half-​​second, he con­cluded that the superhero’s web­bing was indeed the cul­prit after her body snapped upon impact.

The sci­ence, he said, relates to the reason why vehi­cles have air-​​bags. “The same physics that saves our lives in auto­mo­bile crashes was respon­sible for the death of Gwen Stacy,” said Kakalios, a sci­ence con­sul­tant on both the 2009 film “Watchmen” and the latest Spider-​​Man film slated for a summer release.

He described how the strength and elas­ticity of real spider silk makes it con­ceiv­able that the super­hero could stop a speeding train like he did in director Sam Raimi’s “Spider-​​Man 2.”

Kakalios said the prin­ci­pals of sci­ence could also be applied to explain why Wonder Woman can deflect bul­lets with her metal bracelets and how Fan­tastic Four char­ac­ters’ cos­tumes func­tion in order to enable their spe­cial powers.

The lec­ture was cospon­sored by the Col­lege of Sci­ence and the Amer­ican Phys­ical Society (APS), and was held in advance of the APS’s annual March Meeting in Boston this week. The event has drawn thou­sands of researchers, including many from North­eastern, who will par­tic­i­pate in talks, pre­sen­ta­tions and poster ses­sions at the five-​​day gathering.

Swastik Kar, an assis­tant pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Physics, is among the North­eastern fac­ulty mem­bers whose work will be on dis­play at the annual meeting. For one pre­sen­ta­tion, Kar’s post-​​doctoral researcher Xiao­hong An will show­case a tech­nique for syn­the­sizing graphene – a strong, thin, single-​​atom thick mate­rial – both quickly and on a large scale on the metallic sur­face of palladium.

It is extremely ben­e­fi­cial for fac­ulty, post-​​docs and stu­dents to see what’s going on in the field and to stay up-​​to-​​date,” Kar said. “It’s also a place to net­work and dis­cover new collaborations.”

At a poster ses­sion taking place today, third-​​year physics major Christa Hoskin will present research that she has con­ducted in the lab of pro­fessor and physics depart­ment chair Paul Cham­pion. The research focuses on proton transfer in bio­log­ical sys­tems, with a par­tic­ular focus on the use of flu­o­res­cent markers to track cel­lular processes. The floures­cent marker being studied is the green flu­o­res­cent pro­tein, the dis­covery and devel­op­ment of which earned three researchers the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

How the flu­o­res­cence is pro­duced is well under­stood,” Hoskin said. “What isn’t entirely under­stood is the light-​​induced proton transfer that acti­vates the fluorescence.”

View the full ver­sion of Kakalios’ lec­ture on the “The Physics of Super­heroes” here.