The superhero trend of our generation began, debatably, in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. Since then, dozens of major motion pictures have been released in the same ‘superhero’ genre, as well as television shows on the CW and Netflix. Of course, the beginning of the original superhero trend began in the 1930s with Superman – when people were mystified by the fantastical abilities and appearances of the characters – but has managed to continue producing similar media for the past eighty years. Why are we continually entranced by the idea of superhuman beings with supernatural powers? My guess is that because the genre tends to fall under magical realism, usually based off of scientific theories or alterations of real-life practices, people see superheroes as something that is not completely out of reach. And perhaps some aspects are not that far-fetched, as technology continues to evolve over time. Already, there are several scientific advances in our world today that are similar to technology and powers possessed by three Marvel superheroes.
‘Iron Man’ suit
Tony Stark: billionaire, playboy philanthropist. Once a developer of nuclear weaponry, Stark is more than just a very, very rich man. With his fictional intelligence rivalling real-life Elon Musk, Stark has the technological ability to create a suit of armor flexible enough for moderate movement, general invincibility against bullets and strong energy blasts, and light enough to be able to walk comfortably when he’s not flying by way of propulsors. While the exact schematic I described has not been invented yet, and may well be completely out of engineering possibility, there is a similar suit in the works. Last year, the U.S. military released the details behind plans for a new tactical assault suit for soldiers in combat situations, shown as an exoskeleton around the soldier’s body. The exoskeleton has various purposes, such as giving the soldier support for carrying the weight of the suit along with additional equipment and robotically enhancing the soldier’s strength and stamina. The military group behind the project completed a study comparing one group of people wearing the suit, along with carrying a load of equipment weighing about 60-80 pounds, and another group not wearing the suit and carrying the same load. The results showed that the first group were 7% more efficient than the second group, showing a positive but rather low boost to performance, and with a possibility of confounding variables as the surveyed population was only seven people (Cornwall 2015). Thus the project, named TALOS for Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, has faced more failures since its inception than successes. Just like how one would attempt to explain the science behind the fictional Iron Man suit, the attempt to create the complex goals of the TALOS project is extremely difficult. With enough funding and effort, there may be a breakthrough in the future, but the only Iron Man we’ll be seeing for a while will be on the big screen. (Cornwall 2015)
Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, New York by day and masked vigilante Daredevil by night. His power is the ability to use his remaining senses to the extreme, enough so that he can sense his environment and distant sounds better than a dolphin or bat using echolocation. In relation to Daredevil’s powers, less than two months ago researchers claim to have identified the area of the brain that makes people sensitive to room size by identifying how different sounds reverberate throughout a closed area. In the study conducted by MIT researchers, three different sounds were recorded and then synthesized into three different virtual rooms. Based on how the sounds emanated in each room helped the subjects of the experiment determine the size of the room, even if they weren’t able to see it themselves. The results of the study were quite satisfying, with a significantly high success rate between 75 and 100 percent, providing convincing evidence that people are able to guess the size of a room just from reverberations. So we now know that Daredevil’s ability isn’t as unbelievable as previously thought, as we have identified that even us everyday folk possess a similar ability, although to the lesser extent. Perhaps later research might add more to the scope or possible enhancement of our sense of perception. (Price 2016)
I don’t know if many people are Spider-Man fans, but this is probably the most exciting story for me. In the ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ comics, unlike the Tobey Maguire movies, Peter Parker learns how to build his own spider web-shooters, rather than producing them himself. However, it turns out that the synthesized webs might actually be less durable than the ‘real’ webs Maguire’s Spider-Man utilizes. It’s been going around for a while that spider silk is known to be pretty durable, but only recently has a biotech firm been able to create a type of spider silk stronger than both steel and Kevlar. The article itself references Spider-Man, this time speaking of the second Tobey Maguire movie where Spider-Man saves a train full of people from dying by stopping the vehicle completely with his webs. In the past, this event seemed only possible in a superhero film, where physics and science in general are questionable. However, biology professor Randy Lewis claimed to have gone over the requirements needed to stop the train using spider silk and concluded that, if such an occurrence had been real, the rescue would have indeed been a success. The article explains that spider silk has an extremely high capability of absorbing kinetic energy without being snapped; there is even consideration of the use of spider silk in creating artificial tendons in humans, as it is an organic material neither harmful to nor incompatible with human bodies. While a real-life Spider-Man can only be actualized if any radioactive spiders endow their victims with super-strength and agility instead of immediate death, it is endlessly interesting that spider silk may well be one of the toughest fabrics on Earth. (Scott 2014)
For more real-world science regarding superheroes, watch this video about the Avengers!