As a young boy (and not-so-young man), I was/am an avid comic book reader. Collecting mostly DC and Marvel comic books, I was drawn to the abilities of superheroes and to the peeks into the future the comic books gave. For me, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, industrialist and electrical engineer (as well as millionaire, playboy, philanthropist, etc), was a particular favorite. Suave, ingenious, heroic, and a problem-solver – he was a real role model. There was also Mister Fantastic, a physicist who also mastered most of the other science and engineering disciplines. Then there was the Black Panther, a scientific genius as well as a world leader.
You don’t have to read the comics to see real super powers in action. Tony Stark may not be so fictional. Take Elon Musk, who has already created 3D immersive reality visualizations for designing rocket parts. Musk wants to reinvent the world and is using his human abilities to shake up the space and automotive industries. Then there is John Underkoffler, who has already designed several of Iron Man’s inventions, including his homemade nuclear reactor. Mark Zuckerberg is building a real-life version of Iron Man’s digital assistant, JARVIS.
Many superhero powers are being orchestrated in engineering labs across the country.
- The Flash’s super speed: a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded lab has designed a lightweight jet pack that keeps the user on the ground but helps them run faster.
- Invisibility: a number of labs are working on technologies that shield objects from light waves.
- Steve Austin’s bionic eye: Surgeons in Manchester, England performed the first bionic eye implant in July.
Here at Georgia Tech, researchers are working on technologies that can be used to develop bulletproof materials or provide super strength via carbon fiber designs as well as self-healing materials. One thing’s for sure: It looks like we will not need to be exposed to radiation or come from outer space to have superhero-like abilities. Engineers and scientists are finding ways to make super powers accessible to us in the future. Comics may be where the story begins, but it will be researchers in their labs that show us the story as it evolves.