Light Friday: The Science of Superheroes
Flickr/Olaf Gradin, CC BY-SA 2.0
Flickr/Olaf Gradin, CC BY-SA 2.0

Plus: Garbage-Cleaning Bacteria, the Smell of Space and Glasses-Free 3-D.


Superhero Science

Our favorite superheroes have faced off against countless villains in comic books and movies, but how scientifically feasible would their powers and abilities prove in the real world?

Researchers from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom last year published a paper on the physics of Batman’s ability to float long distances using his vaunted cape, which doubles as a glider. Disappointing kids everywhere, their results found that cape-gliding even for a brief period would be the equivalent of being hit by a car at 50 miles per hour.

“After accounting for the drag and lift forces acting on Bruce Wayne in flight, the doomed trajectory was calculated,” Wired.com’s Wired Science blog explains. “The 15.4-foot wingspan is just half that of an ordinary hang glider and, when launching off an 492-foot-high Gotham city skyscraper and gliding (successfully, the team predicted) for around 1,150 feet, Batman’s velocity would peak at 68 mph before leveling off at a life-threatening 50 mph descent.”

In other words, the gliding itself is possible, but he wouldn’t be able to stick the landing. And Batman isn’t the only superhero under scientific scrutiny. The team at AsapSCIENCE recently took a look at Spider-Man, and revealed that for the web-slinger to be able to stick to walls, the microfibers in his hands would make him incredibly hairy. Moreover, for Peter Parker to even become Spider-Man, the spider that bit him would have to pass along a retrovirus that altered every cell in his body.

The following video explains more of Spidey’s scientific dilemmas:

Bacteria Turns Garbage Dump into Park

Nature sometimes offers the best solutions for man-made problems, which helps explain why a team of microbiologists is working to transform a garbage dump into a public park by applying a special bacteria that neutralizes contaminants in the soil.

A joint team of scientists from the United States and Colombia were seeking ways to convert a 150-foot-high landfill in the Colombian city Medellin back into usable space after the local government declared that digging up the garbage and treating it was economically unfeasible, according to R&D Magazine. The researchers then designed an experiment to test whether bioremediation, which relies on biological agents such as plants or microbes to remove contaminants, could be used to clean the site.

A researcher “analysed bacteria at different depths down to 30 meters. He found that the microbial communities seemed to have profiles typical of the bacteria involved in bioremediation that would be robust in the face of inclement weather or external manipulations,” Wired.com reports. “His results showed that the bacterial communities had been carrying out bioremediation functions.”

The project was a major undertaking, as there are typically more than 10,000 species of bacteria and fungi living within a single gram of soil. To identify a potentially useful bacterium, the team had to perform isotope probing, labeling different contaminants with a heavy isotope that acts as a tracer that can be detected in the end products of biodegradation.

“The Colombian government loved it, and decided to launch a restoration project using the local microbial communities and some metal-absorbing plants,” the Smithsonian’s Smart News blog notes. “In order to speed up the process, the hard working microbes are being fed extra nutrients to supplement their diet of pure garbage. The community gets a park, and the microbes get lunch.”

Creating Space Perfume

Although removing a helmet and trying to take a deep whiff of outer space would result in an unpleasant death, astronauts returning from long space walks have consistently reported bringing back the same distinct odor on their suits, helmets, gloves and tools. According to Discover Magazine, space itself smells a bit like charred steak or hot metal.

“But … how does it stink, exactly? It turns out that we, and more specifically our atmosphere, are the ones who give space its special spice,” The Atlantic reports. “According to one researcher, the aroma astronauts inhale as they move their mass from space to station is the result of ‘high-energy vibrations in particles brought back inside which mix with the air.’”

NASA is now trying to reproduce that odor, hiring chemist Steve Pearce to essentially craft a space perfume as a training tool to help potential astronauts acclimatize themselves to conditions outside our own planet. In addition, there may be other cosmic odors with the potential to be replicated.

“In the future, we might even recreate the smell of the moon, Mars, Mercury or any place in the universe, provided we have the right chemical information,” Science in a Can notes. “In fact, we can even recreate the smell of the heart of the galaxy — astronomers searching for animo acids in Sagittarius B2, a vast dust cloud in the middle of the Milky Way, have reported that due to a substance called ethyl formate, it smells and tastes of raspberries and rum — much more pleasant than seared steak and metal.”

Glasses-Free 3-D Television

While electronics manufacturers are excited about the potential market for 3-D TVs, many consumers have reservations about the technology, chief among them the inconvenience of having to wear special glasses in order to experience the full 3-D effect. Yet developers have found a way to enjoy the third dimension on a screen without having to don any equipment.

Engineers at MIT have found a way to harness several layers of LCD screens to create a convincing illusion of 3-D to the naked eye. The system also allows for a wide viewing range, meaning viewers don’t have to remain in a single position, by using an algorithm to split 3-D images into 2-D slices for processing.

“Light is sent through an array of small lenses, which refract it over a viewing angle that is about 50 degrees wide and 20 degrees high, and through an LCD screen that carries part of the final image,” New Scientist explains. “The light then passes through two additional LCD screens, which also contain elements of the final image, and in which the pixels switch between transparent or opaque at 120 frames per second, producing patterns that channel the correct 2-D image slices to your eyes.”

As you move your head to either side, two new slices of the original image come into view, and each eye sees a different 2-D view of the image, which the brain then combines into a single 3-D picture.

Here’s a video showcasing the glasses-free 3-D technology:

Have a great weekend, folks.

 

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Comments:
  • Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry
    July 23, 2012

    [THE FOLLOWING POST IS RATED R-17 FOR ITS DANGEROUS THRILL]

    RE: BATMAN LANDING SPEED–

    Hi-altitude Olympic Ski Jumpers hit the snow at above 120 mph, at an angle that retains most of the perpendicular impact. The snow has some give, but, only a few inches-worth: most of the give is in their knee-flexing…

    So– Tilt this picture 30 degrees, Put skid-shoes on Batman, and have-at-it…

    But as always, Do not try this at home….


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