September 25, 2012 9:22 pm

Reflecting on “The Physics of Superheroes – The Sequel”

Today’s guest blogger is Katya Raffensperger, who was our summer intern this past summer and is now our social media intern. Katya is a Junior at Smith College, where she is studying government. She also curates a Celtic mythology blog, which you can see here. You’ll be seeing more posts from her here on the blog from time to time.

The Physics of Superheroes- The Sequel, on StarTalk Radio

Doctor Manhattan of the “Watchmen” series has quantum mechanical superpowers. Image credit: DC Comics.

Listening to Neil, comedian Chuck Nice, and physicists and authors Michio Kaku and James Kakalios talk about the science behind the superheroes is fascinating. The Physics of Superheroes: the Sequel, which is a continuation of the first Physics of Superheroes episode, shifts the focus away from biology and classical physics, instead focusing on superpowers based in quantum physics.

Reading comics always requires a healthy suspension of disbelief, and as a fan, it can be almost painful when someone points out that, for example, Superman’s ability to accelerate in mid-air makes no scientific sense. The reality check isn’t much of a surprise. What is a surprise is how close humans are to making some formerly fictional powers a reality. With advances in scientific knowledge, a future when humans can use technology to enhance our strength, sharpen our senses, and even become functionally invisible is not as far off as it may seem.

I had mixed feelings while listening to this show. The technology geek in me loved hearing about the various ways that some superpowers could be replicated. On the other hand, the comic book geek in me sympathized with the group’s concern’s over whether comic book heroes will seem as interesting in a future when their powers are the stuff of reality instead of imagination.

In the end, I’m leaning towards excitement about the possibilities. Near the end of the show, the discussion turned to the history of superheroes, and how their powers have always reflected societal anxieties. The ‘60s were the heyday for superpowers based on radioactivity, while more recent heroes and villains tend to trace their origins to genetic engineering. People have always told stories about superhumans, and as our technology advances, so will our stories.

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