Harper Voyager Science Fair: Superhero Science w/ Patrick Hemstreet & Lexie Dunne

Today, Patrick Hemstreet (author of The God Wave) and Lexie Dunne (author of How to Save the World) are joining us for the Harper Voyager Science Fair (#HVsciencefair), to discuss Superhero Science. Enjoy!

Our Brains are Electric: On the Science of Superheroes

by Patrick Hemstreet


Something that has always interested me and has shaped my work and life’s philosophy is the fact that our bodies and brains are electric. Just like your TV or your toaster. We emit the same frequencies and are “powered” by that same natural force; the flow of electrons, the life blood of the cosmos.

Of course one of the brain’s primary functions is to translate various inputs. We learn this in grade school. We have five senses–five avenues of input. When a person, trained like me, monitors the electrical activity of the brain–the so-called brainwaves– with an EEG; there is most certainly an electric field generated. This electric field while not overwhelmingly strong can be assessed from outside a person’s skull. This leads me to believe in the notion that the brain’s function also includes a type of not yet fully understood output. Electrical impulses pushed out into the universe that could reasonably have some effect on it.

Why not? Guilio Ruffini has touched on this notion with his absolutely astonishing telepathy experiments. Lynne McTaggart’s very good book, The Intention Experiment (you should pick this up by the way), asks you to do just that. It bids you to effect change on the outside world with the power of your intention or the power of thought.

Source: Giphy

There was an old physics theory in the nineteenth century that surmised that light and thereby the visible universe dwelt and formed in a medium called the luminiferous ether. This theory was discarded not because it was directly disproven but because it was rendered unnecessary through advances in the understanding of light. I have often postulated that we are indeed surrounded by ether but that it is not exactly luminiferous but rather “mentiniferous” or maybe “psychoniferous” if you will.  An ether that is drawn together and formed by thought. The electrical impulses that I measure and chart by placing electrodes at certain points on people’s heads when performing an EEG are the immediate (if not only) observable aspect of this.

When dreaming on my little theory concerning the fabric of the universe I am drawn to the fanciful concept that the electrical impulses created by just a single thought can flow from our brains, out of our skulls and weave themselves into a dynamic mentiniferous pool of existence. Electricity that forms atoms that in turn form molecules that go on to form everything from the desk that my keyboard now sits on to the sandwich that I will shortly take a gaping bite of.   The question I ask myself is am I offering constructive and pleasant impulses a la the music of Tolkien’s Eru Illuvatar? Or am I Melkor offering discordant noise?

At whichever electrical frequency I choose to contribute to our shining pool of ether today, I am gratified to know that even a small iota of this universe could be affected by my wayward musings.  Hey, who knows, maybe our collective ponderings will hook up sooner or later and…

Ray Guns, Lasers, and Bird Goggles: On Superhero (and Supervillain) Technology

by Lexie Dunne


So after years of putting it off, I’m playing D&D. Wait, don’t go yet, I promise this science fair entry isn’t entirely about my character! But she is my starting point, so here goes: I’m playing Tinker “Steady” Steadman the Inconsistent Gnomish Gunsmith. Steady’s got a “Thunder Cannon” (which is a stupid name) called Matilda, which she’s currently building a laser sight for. She’s collected the chassis and optics, but she still has pieces to gather like a diode that’ll probably be a magical artifact that lights up when she taps it. The major thing I don’t have is a name that isn’t an acronym meaning “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” because my DM will let me get away with a lot, but that’s stretching it.

Even before rolling Steady, I’ve become a bit fascinated by lasers in the past couple of years, which is fitting. In my Superheroes Anonymous series, my hero Gail Godwin faces all of your garden variety supervillain types. Their go-to weapon is usually a ray gun. You know, a little handheld gun that shoots out concentrated beams of light in all sorts of shiny colors that puncture and slice at will, depending on the gun? Frost lasers, superheating lasers, they’re the most versatile things known to villainkind.

And I’m sorry to tell you this, but it’ll be awhile before we have ray guns you can hold in the palm of your sweet little hand. They do make “ray guns” that you can buy, but they’re not exactly that portable. Plus, they require a lot of power and typically need coolant and the like. But the one thing the villains get right is how many different and amazingly cool things lasers can do, so that’s what my science fair project is about.

So, basic overview of the history of lasers, go—the first one was developed in 1960 by a fellow named Theodore Maiman, who used a flash-lamp to deliver photos to a ruby crystal, and some mirrors to form the first red laser beam, which pulsed for as long as the flash-lamp worked. As with a lot of things, the military found a use for it. Things were a little slow to launch as scientists figured out the how-tos, but now we can use lasers for pretty much everything: CD players, weapons guidance, diamond cutting, reading bar codes at the supermarket. And the most important thing of all: entertaining your dog or cat as they try to catch that infernal red dot.

But since it’s a science fair and we’re celebrating the coolest aspects of science, here are some amazing things happening with lasers right now:

Source: Eric Gutierrez, Lentink Lab at Stanford University

Meet Obi-Wan Kenobi. Not that Obi-Wan Kenobi—this one with the stylish headgear. Obi-Wan is a parrot with his own little goggles crafted using a 3D printer, and he’s been trained to fly through lasers between two posts so that scientists can recreate the way his wings function in flight. They use lasers to measure the vortices and movement in Obi-Wan’s wings, and it’s revealing several flaws in what we know about flight technology. Plus, he just looks cute.

And lasers are also helping with medical advancement. Lasers can be used to pulse deep into moles and detect melanomas, or even in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. They can measure the beta amyloid proteins by shooting a laser into the eye. Scientists are even hopeful that in the future, infrared lasers could be used to destroy those amyloid proteins (the cause of Alzheimer’s) and provide a cure.

Lasers have been used for decades for mapping, which is incredibly helpful in times of catastrophe. For example, lasers were used to map the ocean floor around Haiti after the earthquakes in 2010 to allow safe passage for ships providing relief workers and supplies.

Also cool? You can make a quantum biological laser using e. coli and jellyfish proteins, which is like the most supervillain thing I have heard in a long time.

So yes. We may not have ray guns yet, and I definitely think we’re heading that direction. But that doesn’t make lasers any less cool. Now if only I could figure out what the D&D equivalent name for one would be.



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