Superhero powers explained...

Posted by ap507 at Jun 09, 2016 12:15 PM |
A companion piece to the article 'Who’s the best-equipped superhero?' outlining the pros and cons of superheroes based on student research at the University

(+) = PROS (based on student papers)

(-) = CONS (based on student papers)


Vol 4 (2015), JIST, ‘How much energy can Superman release during a super flare?’

(+) Superman’s body/cells are fuelled by solar radiation from our ‘yellow sun’. In this way he can be modelled as a ‘Solar Cell’. The only limiting factor to his powers is seemingly the Sun.

(+) ‘Super flare’ ability is an extension of the ‘heat vision’ skill (which is the release of a controlled beam of stored solar energy through his eyes)* -> The Super flare releases solar energy from every cell in his body

(+) If ‘Law of Energy Conservation’ is obeyed and it is assumed Superman has the same efficiency as an actual solar cell (12%), then the energy efficiency for this SUPER FLARE attach is 7.07x105 J/s.

If disobeying the ‘Law of Energy Conservation’ as seen in the comics the calculated energy release efficiency for his SUPER FLARE is 3.86x1010J/s – which after 1 hour is more energy than an atomic bomb.

But…will his inner most cells actually absorb any of the solar energy? If not, the efficiency is a gross overestimate – however being an alien maybe he has a highly efficient energy transport system.

Vol 2, No 1 (2013), PST, ‘The Solar Efficiency of Superman’

In the comics, Superman can fly for over 8 hours at constant altitude (+). But, assuming he absorbs energy like a solar cell, Superman couldn’t possibly take in enough sunlight to power this flight (-) - unless disobeying the law of conservation of energy and having a staggeringly impossible solar cell efficiency of 656000% were within his superhero capabilities.

Vol 9, No 1 (2010), PST, ‘The Last Son of Krypton’

(+) *HEAT VISION ABILITY EXPLAINED (for example when cutting/melting steel): Assuming Superman (or his eyes presumably) is modelled as a carbon dioxide laser -> this ability utilises vibrations and rotations of carbon dioxide molecules to produce laser light (in 10µm range).

BUT…if Superman was 100% efficient as a carbon dioxide laser he would still have to bask in sunlight for 7 minutes and 2 seconds

(-) HOWEVER carbon dioxide lasers are only about 20% efficient -> therefore the basking time increases to 35 minutes and 7 seconds.

SOLAR RADIATION absorption is similar to photosynthesis (+) – but only uncovered skin is exposed to and absorbs the radiation -> in order to perform heat vision regularly he would need to surpass quoted efficiencies or increase skin surface area (-).

Vol 14, No 1 (2015), PST, ‘Solar Superman’

(-) To stop a train of 185 metric tonnes travelling at 127km/h, based on its kinetic energy, Superman, assuming perfect absorption, would have to spend 1.4x105seconds (about 1 day and 15 hours of continuous absorption) OR 3 and a quarter days if there are 12 hours of sunlight per day.

Vol 14, No 1 (2015), PST, ‘Superman reverses the polarity of Earth’s spin’

(+) By increasing his ‘relativistic mass’ (the mass of a ‘body’ in motion) 13.7 million times by travelling close to the speed of light Superman is able to reverse the polarity of the Earth’s spin (in 50 seconds as depicted in the 1978 film).

Vol 9, No 1 (2010), PST, ‘Can superhuman muscles stop bullets?’

(+) Theoretically Superman could have a higher muscle density than normal (1.48 g/cm3 as opposed to roughly 1.06 g/cm3).

(-) But this would not be enough to explain his ability to stop bullets -> SKIN DENSITY would have to be 296 g/cm3 to stop 50% of standard handgun bullets…BUT this is probably too high even for extra-terrestrials, so maybe another mechanism is at work.


The Flash

Vol 4 (2015), JIST, ‘Modelling the mutation rate of The Flash in context’



(+) INCREASED REGENERATIVE CAPACITY -> cell division must occur at an increased rate compared to humans.

If modelled as bacterial cells (because they divide quicker than human cells), but with the modelled mutation rate of a human, then…

è (-) The Flash has an ENHANCED MUTATION RATE (1.71x1015per day) compared to a normal human (2.38x1013 per day).

è (-) In 1 year of being ‘The Flash’ he will accumulate 72 years’ worth of mutations – for a 25 year old that is extremely high! (however his increased regenerative capacity could fight against cancer (+))

Vol 4 (2015), JIST, ‘A model to determine the maximum instantaneous speed of The Flash’

(+) BASED ON A DIETARY INTAKE for the character’s BMR (basal metabolic rate), his MAXIMUM INSTANTANEOUS SPEED = 4472.44 +/- 57.64 m/s -> which is approximately 2.74X that measured in the CW show.

Vol 13, No 1 (2014), PST, ‘The Flash: Hero or Villain?’

(-) Sometimes the velocity at which The Flash travels causes more damage than good, especially when directly saving people in a way which involves physical contact -> for example, when saving a cyclist from a taxi (Ford Crown Victoria travelling at 30mph) as seen in the TV show à the threshold value is 130 mph or 58 m/s.

Vol 14, No 1 (2015), PST, ‘The Flash’s Sole Problem’

(-) Only takes a speed of 394 m/s to completely burn the soles of his normal shoes.



Vol 2 (2013), JIST, ‘X-Men: Wolverine’

(+) Increased healing processes which allow for rapid regeneration -> this is achieved most likely by bypassing the ‘Hayflick Limit’ so stem cells can divide indefinitely – this also suggests levels of the protein ‘telomerase’ is high – NET RESULT is damaged cells are constantly turned over.

(+) This may also contribute to a greater immunity to foreign chemicals and diseases – for example adamantium, which is grafted onto his skeleton, produces a poison which he is always fighting (-).

Healing powers may suppress memories and lead to amnesia (speculation made in paper).

Vol 4 (2015), JIST, ‘The Force Behind His Train Lunge’

(+) Based on his adamantium-reinforced skeleton’s mass and density (acknowledging that osmium is the closest thing to adamantium in terms of density) -> his lunge force (at least 1300N) is probably FATAL.



Vol 13, No 1 (2014), PST, ‘The Power of Mjolnir’

(+) Assuming Mjolnir is created with iron (as opposed to the Asgardian metal ‘Uru’), the kinetic energy of the Mjolnir will be approximately 4.72x105 J (which is approximately the energy of a 100kg car travelling at 48.5mph).

(+) Each lightning flash can have an energy output of about 108 J.

(+) 1 throw of the Mjolnir can have an energy output of 5.97x1018 J.

(+) A lightning storm will redistribute the energy of several lightning strikes and assuming there is 100% energy efficiency without any dissipation, Thor’s power output during a continuous flow of lightning can be approximately 2 x 1012 W.



Vol 5 (2016), JIST, ‘Mystique: The Ultimate Mutant’

(+) Mistress of disguise regardless of age, gender, race (in comics but backed up to a degree by the student papers).

(+) Probably has additional pigment genes usually seen elsewhere in nature (due to blue skin and yellow eyes).

(+) Ability to change the expression of different genes.

(+) Decreased rate of aging.

(+) Able to heal quickly -> probably due to self-caused mutations in DNA repair and cell proliferation pathways

(+) Can probably choose different genes to mutate (single nucleotide polymorphisms) depending on whom she is trying to impersonate.

(+) MATP, TYR, MC1R, IRF4 and SLC24A4 are probably the first genes to be mutated to bring about the biggest difference in skin, hair and eyes.

(+) Her ability to alter skin patterns may be similar to that of cuttlefish or Japanese Rice Fish in terms of genes involved – such as SLC2A15 and PAX7A.

(+) Genes which may be altered when changing size include those linked to obesity – such as POMC, MCR4 (along with maybe GPR101 (associated with gigantism)).


(-) Increased chance of cancer

(-) Genes used to change size likely to cause osteoporosis and sarcopenia…so maybe not a routinely used power.

(-) Older appearance can lead to the onset of Progeroid syndromes, photosensitivity and internal organ problems.

(-) Changes observed would not be instantaneous…it would take decades!


Dr Curt Connors (The Lizard)

Vol 3 (2014), JIST, ‘Is Dr Conner’s regenerative transformation possible?’

(+) General healing capacity and limb regeneration ability.

(+) The relevant key genes expressed during limb regeneration in animals (which have high regenerative potential) are identical to genes expressed during human development – so in theory ability is possible.

(+) Genes coding for matrix metalloproteases (MMPs), fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) and signalling molecules in the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway are likely implicated.

(+) Growth rate for Dr. Connors (based on the 2012 ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ movie) can be 1500+/-380 mm/day (this seems highly unlikely as zebrafish have perhaps the fastest limb regeneration rate (0.1-0.4 mm/day)).

(-) Time frame required for limb regeneration would be much larger as it is a 3-step process (wound healing -> re-differentiation -> re-development)…therefore not a rapid process as seen in the media.


Iron Man

Vol 14, No 1 (2015), PST, ‘Iron Armour’

(+) Protective suit that can withstand (large amounts of) trauma without any damage to the occupant if offensive weapon is not a blunt force projectile, explosive or penetrating round.

(+) Works by absorbing energy released from impact through internal dampeners and reduces the overall force by decelerating an object over a prolonged period of time – same principle as a car crumple zone.

(-) Realistically the iron suit would have to be 3m thick to stop blunt force projectiles, explosives or penetrating rounds.

Vol 14, No 1 (2015), PST, ‘Inferring the Nuclear Properties of Vibranium’

‘Vibranium’ exhibits high-impact absorption and is able to power the Arc Reactor -> The Arc Reactor keeps Iron Man alive

(+) It is likely that the stable isotope 287Vi179 -> based on Hassium (same atomic mass as the fictional ‘Vibranium’) -> recharge time for the Arc Reactor is approximately 14 seconds à (-)but this does not guarantee that the Arc Reactor, if modelled as a nuclear fission reactor, is valid and functional.



Vol 2 (2013), JIST, ‘Spidey Motion’

(+) Can swing at high velocities (68.83mph) safely over central NYC traffic.

(+) The tensile strength of his webbing means webs are strong and secure and can indeed support a human -> 1cm of spider silk can withstand up to 8.64x104 N (the max tension in the web is at the midpoint of the swing and can be about 1524.74N).

Vol 11, No 1 (2012), PST, ‘Doing whatever a spider can’

(+) Spiderman’s webbing is proportionally equivalent to that of a real spider’s (generally a weaker orb-weaver spider BUT the TOUGHNESS of the webbing is more akin to the strongest of spider silks (such as the Darwinian Bark spider).

(+) Toughness can be about 500 MJ/m3.

Vol 9, No 1 (2010), PST, ‘Spider silk’

(+) Spider silk can hold a human as 1cm silk can hold 8800kg -> so Spiderman can swing and also carry others


(-) Spider silk can stretch up to using lots of spider silk strands can actually be quite dangerous when swinging from tall buildings such as the Empire State Building à possibility of hitting the ground due to stretch factor



Vol 14, No 1 (2015), PST, ‘The Spectacularly Exploding Iceman’

(+) Can potentially transform into solid ice -> there is a dramatic and rapid heat energy release that accompanies this process that can be modelled as a Sedov-Taylor explosion (where the explosion originates from a point source, in this case Iceman).

(+) Local temperatures can be in excess of 1000K

(+) Can be followed by possibly equally destructive shockwave

(+) Being within 1 or 2 metres of Iceman can be dangerous (local temp of 1000K).

Vol 8, No 1 (2009), PST, ‘Iceman’

-         In the comics Iceman has the ability to freeze water vapour into ice constructs.

(+) He may work like a refrigerator in producing ice using his own energy.

(+) He could (Assuming he had enough energy in the form of a large meal (approx. 2500kcal)) potentially create small amounts of ice àbut NOT an entire ice wall as seen in the films as the amount of energy required is too high and not feasible (-).


Silver Surfer

Vol 4 (2015), JIST, ‘Knocking Dr Doom off his feet – The energy and force behind the Silver Surfer’s attack’

(+) Surfboard is able to generate energy which the Silver Surfer can use.

(+) A minimum of 3.22 kJ and 214.5N force is required to push Dr. Doom back  30m over the course of 4 seconds (as seen in the 2007 ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’ movie).


Black Bolt

Vol 4 (2015) JIST, ‘Modelling the destructive force of the Black Bolt’s voice – “A Vocal Nuke”’

-         In the comics, possesses the ‘quasi-sonic scream’ ability which causes electrons in the thermosphere (region of the atmosphere where temperature increases with height) to become excited

For Black Bolt…

(+) A whisper of 20dB has an energy output of 3.35x1017 J

(+) A scream of 129dB has an energy output of 2.24x1032 J -> scaling up within just 1dB can induce a power increase large enough to destroy buildings in a surface area approximately 4.5x1012 times greater than that of New York.

(+) Capable of planetary annihilation



Vol 10, No 1 (2011), PST, ‘Trajectory of a falling Batman’

(-) Using a cape to glide/travel is not safe -> especially when he reaches ground level as his velocity (based on the ‘Batman Begins’ Batman and cape) can be 80km/hr once the velocity has plateaued (from an initial velocity of 110km/hr) which is FATAL. Therefore he would still need a parachute for safe landing.

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