The Weekly Geek: Super powers aren’t just science fiction


With the excellent X-Men: First Class and the mostly-awesome Thor behind us, and Green Lantern and Captain America coming right up, it feels like this is one of the most superhero-centric summers in recent memory. So it’s only appropriate that we, the movie-going geek public, spend some time wishing and daydreaming about superpowers.

io9 took things a step further in a recent post, asking science experts exactly which powers may actually be possible, and which will only ever see the light of day in comics and films. Three scientist/authors were asked about the plausibility of “flight, super speed, invisibility, telepathy, teleportation, and energy manipulation — and then asked them for their choice of the most plausible superpower.”

Oddly enough, it seems like invisibility may have the best chance. Two of our three experts mentioned actual cutting-edge research that suggests an invisibility device might not be too far down the road:

From panelist #1, Professor James Kakalios:

There has been enough progress in invisibility cloaks, since the first one was made five years ago, that these could actually exist down the road. Right now, we have cloaks that can hide objects a few inches high under visible light and there are schemes to make a real Harry Potter-like wrap-around cloak.

And from our intrepid third expert, Adam Weiner:

My vote would be for invisibility. Current research into substances called “metamaterials” lend themselves to the possibility. Basically metamaterials have negative indices of refraction which means that light originating from behind an object made of a metamaterial could be bent around it such that an observer would see whatever is behind the object but not the object itself.

Holy wow, Batman. Invisibility cloaks! Real-like invisibility cloaks! But that’s not all: While the others poo-poo the notion, one of the intrepid experts actually thinks telepathy may be possible. This is by far the most far-out claim on the post, but it’s also (arguably) the coolest:

…one of the more realistic super powers is telepathy. After all, when you think, ionic current along and between neurons generate very weak electromagnetic fields. These electromagnetic waves emanating from your head in deep thought are a billion times weaker than the radio waves that surround you right now. (We never think about the fact that we live in a sea of radio waves, except when we can’t get a cell phone signal).

Professor Bin He in the Dept of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Minnesota is working of translating the signals generated when a person is watching a computer screen, and translating the information into voltages that are sent to the computer. The upshot is that a suitably trained volunteer can move a mouse along a computer screen by only thinking of where they want the cursor to move.

Telepathic Emma Frost

Now this — this is awesome. So long as we don’t all need to invest in Magneto-style helmets, I’m all for it.

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