Superheroes are wont to be at the forefront of technology, because, well, they’re superheroes. Whether it be skin that doesn’t budge at bullets or suits that outright deflect them back at bad guys, superheroes seem to live in an alternative universe where the rules of science have been bent to an extraordinary degree.
But that’s the thing: While Marvel and DC Comics might seem like visionaries of science, they’re often not. Superpowers are, many times, not too far off from the truth.
While humans can’t bounce back from a bullet like Wolverine or X-23 (yet), regenerative abilities like those of mutants could be imminent. In 2013, scientists discovered that the naturally occurring protein Lin28a could be tweaked to kickstart rapid tissue repair. When they genetically modified baby and adult mice to produce Lin28a — typically found only in developing embryos — they discovered that puncturing the ears of the mice with the stuff helped them heal better. The effect was even more pronounced in the young mice — when they clipped off the toes of the mice, their toes would grow back. Researchers just have to figure out how to apply these findings to humans.
Spider-Man Web Blasts
With web-shooters attached to the wrist, the original Spider-Man could swing from buildings and stop moving trains. It turns out that the super-strength ability of these webs isn’t so far from the truth: Scientists can now create artificial spider silk fibers that are stronger than steel. Heralded as a material of the future, researchers are now experimenting with spider silk as a way to deliver antibiotics and develop artificial muscle technology.
Thor’s hammer, called Mjolnir, comes with a catch — it can only be picked up by heroes that the hammer considers worthy. That means yes, Thor can pick it up; the rest of us suckers are out of luck. Electrical engineer Allen Pan recently figured out how to make a real-life Mjolnir with the use of electromagnets and fingerprint technology. Twelve-volt batteries charge the magnets within the hammer, meaning that if someone wants to pick it up off of a say, a manhole, they’re screwed — unless their fingerprints are in the hammer’s system. With a scan of the right fingerprint, the magnets become disabled. No news yet if Pan is working on a hammer that can create antimatter particles.
From Super Man to the Power Rangers, super strength is a skill found in most superheroes. In real life people can’t smash like the Hulk, but they can leverage technology to enhance their strength. Exoskeleton suits have been proven to boost human strength. One such suit is the SuitX MAX which reduces the wearer’s muscle exertion by 60 percent, allowing the wearer to repeatedly pick up objects of great weight. There’s some competition in this market: The SuperFlex exosuit is designed as part of DARPA’s Warrior Web Program and utilizes robotic muscles to increase the strength of the human within the suit.
Wonder Woman’s invisible plane is essentially a reality. In 2015, Chinese researchers announced that they’d developed a new material that was ten times thinner than the material traditionally used on the outside of stealth planes. More importantly, the ultra-thin material acts a microwave absorber, meaning that it can avoid radar detection, rendering it invisible to enemy fighters attempting to make target.
Superman and Supergirl have x-ray vision thanks to their alien ancestry. Soon, humans may be able to do the same with wireless signals like WiFi. MIT researchers developed a technology called RF Capture, which uses wireless signals as a way to sense and track human motion down to breath and heartbeat, even if the person is standing behind a wall. The researchers claim that it works at 90 percent accuracy — just about as good as Kal-El.