Superman: Man of Steel and... super-powered solar panel?

Posted by er134 at Jul 30, 2014 11:06 AM |
Physics students point out flaws in the science of Superman’s solar powered hijinks
Superman: Man of Steel and... super-powered solar panel?

© 2011 DC Comics

Superman’s powers are pretty well documented: flight; heat vision; an uncanny ability to pull off highly-questionable underwear arrangements. But who knew he was also the world’s most powerful solar panel?

Four of our MPhys physics students have worked out Superman’s solar powered credentials in a paper for this year’s Journal of Special Physics Topics – and it’s safe to say he puts all earthly photovoltaic appliances to shame.

The students - Magdalena Szczykulska, Jason Watson, Lilian Garratt-Smithson and Alistair William Muir – had noted that the explanation given for Superman’s abilities in the DC comics was that he gets his energy from the electromagnetic radiation contained in the light from our sun.

They decided to put this explanation to the test, and applied the formula used to gauge the efficiency of regular solar panels – i.e the amount of energy they give out relative to how much energy from sunlight they have received.

After taking rough estimates of the area of Superman’s profile and the amount of energy he would need for a day’s flight, they found his solar cell efficiency was a staggering 656,000 per cent.

This is a far sight better than the 44.7 per cent recorded for the most efficient solar panels. It’s also, frankly, impossible: he must be getting energy from somewhere else as well, according to the students.

So if you’re reading, Superman: it’s all very well protecting us from Lex Luthor - but if you really want to save the planet, you might want to share your secrets and put an end to the world’s energy crisis.

The Journal of Physics Special Topics is a peer-reviewed student journal run by our Department of Physics and Astronomy.