LTU Staffer Publishes Another Academic Paper on Marvel’s ‘Vibranium’

The executive director of Lawrence Technological University’s Marburger STEM Center has published a second paper on using vibranium, the fictitious wonder metal from “Black Panther” and other Marvel superhero movies, to teach kids about chemistry.

Sibrina Collins’ first paper, published last year in the Journal of Chemical Education, described an activity that Collins and LaVetta Appleby, senior lecturer in chemistry, created for students to get them thinking seriously about the Periodic Table of the Elements. The students were asked where they’d place vibranium on the table, and to explain their decision.

The latest paper, published last month in the scholarly journal Chemical Educator, describes a hands-on activity for high school students intended to expose them to concepts in inorganic chemistry. The activity begins with a discussion of where vibranium might fit on the Periodic Table — then moves on to having the students prepare compounds of copper and cobalt in a solution, called inorganic complexes. These chemical combinations exhibit dramatic changes in vibrant colors. Afterward, instructors go over why the color change occurred.

Collins said she seized upon the idea of using “Black Panther” as a teaching vehicle to emphasize diversity in STEM careers. The movie’s fictional Wakanda is a successful, technologically advanced African country, and Black Panther’s younger sister Shuri is in charge of its technological development.

“The inclusion of pop culture and movies into the STEM curriculum is a useful approach to engage students in the classroom,” Collins said. “This strategy allows educators to connect with students using their experiences. In addition, you will learn immediately which students are fans of Marvel comics!” 

The original Vibranium paper is available at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jchemed.8b00206, while the latest one is at http://chemeducator.org/bibs/0024001/24190056.html.

Collins’ co-authors on the latest paper are Appleby, LTU Associate Professors Jeffery Morrissette and Julie Zweisler-Vollick, LTU Assistant Professor Meng Zhou  and LTU adjunct faculty member Jeffrey Ohmen.

The Marburger STEM Center was established through a $20 million gift from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to centralize and coordinate LTU’s K-12 STEM outreach efforts. Ballmer took LTU mathematics classes as a high school student. The center is named after LTU President Emeritus Richard Marburger.

Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 15 percent of universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

Press release from Lawrence Technological Institute