This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by Vida Systems, now available on Google Arts & Culture
Let’s use science to explore how these superpowers would work in real life, meet some actual animal superheroes and take a look at what technology has been developed that puts us on the first step to becoming truly super.
Oh no! The city of Laniatus is under attack by the gigantic monster Lacerta! Luckily we have a trio of trusty superheroes ready to save the day. These superheroes are equipped with super strength - surely this superpower will defeat Lacerta and bring peace back to the city?
Quick, a bus full of children and cute puppies has fallen over the cliff! Unfortunately your super strength can’t help. Even if your arms were strong enough to physically catch the bus, the pressure of the falling vehicle would crumple it on impact.
Crouching Figure of Atlas Crouching Figure of Atlas (1481–1536) by Baldassare Tommaso PeruzziThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Even if things didn’t crumple when you handled them, all your bones would. For super strength your bone density would have to increase significantly. Bones would need to be 6 times their current width. No wonder the Hulk can’t fit in those jeans!
We are surrounded by animals with real-life super strength. The average ant can lift objects 50 times its own body weight. An ant the size of an average human could lift a truck easily, using only its jaws. Don’t try that at home.
Although the laws of physics stop humans from lifting up vehicles using only our bare hands, technology can help some of the way. Bionic frames have been developed which allow people to carry up to 200 pounds for an extended period of time.
The dastardly Malum is at it again! He has stolen the jewels of Vita and is leading authorities on a high speed chase. Our next trio of superheroes should give him a run for his money though; these guys are equipped with super speed.
They should catch up to him before anyone can say “Faster than a speeding bullet….”
Super body, meet friction and inertia. They are going to make your life difficult as a super speedy hero. Running incredibly fast will mean pushing through lots of air molecules very quickly, creating friction, which creates heat. Lots of fiery, fiery heat.
Superman Life Studio by Yale JoelLIFE Photo Collection
So you have a fireproof suit, well done! But you forgot about inertia. Running at super speeds creates super g-forces which, at best, make you pass out. And when you stop, your brain will crash into the front of your skull. Fun times!
The fastest animal on the planet is not the cheetah who can only go up to 60 miles per hour. The peregrine falcon smashes that record, with a cruising speed of 55 miles per hour and a diving speed of 229 miles per hour.
Science isn’t overly keen on creating speedy human fireballs. However, advancements in bionic technology does mean that bionic legs will be stronger and faster than our boring old bony ones.
After gaining control of a jet transporting President Tenvis, Malum thought he had it made. Little did he know the jet was a clever decoy rigged with explosives and President Tenvis was safe and sound in Laniatus.
Once he realised he’d been hoodwinked Malum desperately jumped out of the exploding jet only to land in the clutches of one of our flying superheroes, Quetzalcoatlus. The superpower of flight will surely save the day….right?
Don’t Do It!
I can hear you cry, don’t ruin flight for me! Well good news everyone, flight is possibly the least damaging superpower for the human body. If you stay low, that is. Up high it is super cold, usually below freezing.
Where There's a Will There's a Way (A way of Flying) (circa 1815 - 1824) by Francisco José de Goya y LucientesMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen
As you climb high in the air, pressure decreases, which means gas volume increases. Go up too fast and you get what’s called the bends. The gas in your body expands too quickly and causes intense pain, paralysis, and even death.
Meet the ultimate super flying machine. Quetzalcoatlus was the largest flying animal to ever live (that we know of). It lived around 66 million years ago, and was the height of a giraffe. As an adult, its minimum wingspan was 36 feet.
People have created their own flying technology. While we haven’t nailed flapping yet, rigid wings seem to work pretty well. This suit can get you flying at 125 miles per hour.
Malum is at it again, this time using sharks equipped with laser beams to break into the Laniatus aquarium and making off with millions of dollars worth of spotted jewel fish.
Luckily the city of Laniatus is the home of many kinds of superheroes and has sent their special crack team of heroes who have the awesome power of invisibility. This has to be the superpower to finally stop Malum once and for all….
Now You See Me…
Now I can’t see you! The problem with invisibility is light passes through you, which is the point. But our eyes work by light reflecting off the backs of our eyes. So if light is passing straight through, then you can’t see.
Invisibility rules are hard. Are your clothes invisible? If not, you are walking around naked. Is your breakfast invisible? Or can you see a floating ball of cereal? Plus what about all the dust and dirt that lands on you during the day?
Master of Disguise
Meet the cuttlefish. If you can find him, that is. These animals are the undisputed masters of camouflage, able to change their skin to match almost any background. They also change their actual skin texture to create horns or fins.
Using a series of lenses, researchers have created what they call the Rochester cloak. They hope to use this technology in places like hospitals so surgeons can see through their hands, allowing them to see more of what’s going on inside the patient.
Malum has been caught in the act! Deep within the vault of Opulentus strange noises were heard and special infrared cameras detected something that should not be there. The Chef of Laniatus police has their crack Oculus team to find out what’s going on.
Surely these guys can succeed where all other superheroes have so far failed….
Super Retina Burn!
Yeah, creating a beam of heat from your eyes just isn’t going to end well for organs filled with a jelly–like substance called vitreous humor. Let’s just leave it at that.
Even X–ray vision isn’t going to be great. To see along that wavelength, radiation is needed and either you, or the person you are looking at, is going to get an unhealthy dose of radiation, causing sickness very quickly.
Some types of snakes come with real–life heat vision. Using a special organ called a pit organ, snakes such as vipers can detect their prey's body heat from up to 3 feet away.
There are many types of heat sensing and infrared cameras available these days. The most cutting edge of these devices can see the outlines of objects and people through walls, just like our superhero.
Poor Laniatus is at the mercy of Mallum and has sent their last team of superheroes to try and catch this slippery criminal. This time, Mallum has outdone himself - he has managed to break into the Laniatus zoo and release all the animals causing utter pandemonium!
Super Coalesco and his faithful axolotl steed is on the case but the only superpower Coalesco has is super healing….will it be enough?
Falling off a building and breaking all your bones is going to hurt. Unfortunately, the whole self–healing thing is probably going to hurt even more as the bones move around, trying to find where they belong again. No further explanation needed.
Of course being able to heal yourself suggests you will live far longer than your family, friends, and everyone you know. Saying goodbye to loved ones is hard, maybe that’s why superheroes don’t seem to have many friends?
The axolotl salamander has some pretty amazing regenerative powers. It can regrow almost any part of its body including legs, tail, skin, and even major organs like the liver and heart. No word on how painful that process is though….
Scientists are working hard on many new technologies which will help patients who suffer from organ failure. In the near future, science hopes to be able to grow new organs for people just like the super axolotl!