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We all had a favourite superhero when we were kids – whether it was Superman because he could fly, Storm and her ability to control the weather or Wolverine and his retractable metal claws. My favourite was always Batman. He couldn’t leap tall buildings or run faster than a speeding bullet but he had the coolest tech of all the superheroes and it seemed that no matter what the situation – he had something attached to his utility belt or in the Batmobile that would deal with it. KAPOW! BOF! Batman and his array of inventions wins the day again.
It’s not surprising then, that he tops my list because a lot of his ‘super-power’ lies in his inventions and the kit that has been engineered to assist him. As someone who has been working in engineering and inventing for the last thirty years my work has been about solving problems and creating solutions to help build a better future.
Superheroes continue to fascinate all of us and the proliferation of movies, comics and TV-shows is testament to that but science, engineering and technology have come a long way since Superman was first introduced to the world in 1938 and this has meant we are beginning to see mankind do the things comic book writers could only imagine. Last week was Tomorrow’s Engineers Week – an opportunity to highlight to young people across the UK some of the exciting careers in modern engineering. Working with the IET and Mumsnet we answered questions put to us by parents and kids about superheroes and which powers could one day be a reality thanks to advances in engineering.
We received over one hundred questions about a variety of superheroes. Here are some of the questions we answered:
Could we ever climb buildings and heal quickly like Spider-Man?
Scientists have already discovered how to climb walls like geckos. You just need a slightly larger than hand-sized amount of gecko-like material and to work out how to balance the strain of the hanging human in a uniform way. Also, the rise of graphene – the world’s thinnest material – may also allow engineers to develop silk web throwing capabilities.
Exoskeleton technology will allow us to develop superhuman capabilities like Spider-Man. Exoskeleton technology allows people with spinal cord injuries to walk again and advanced materials could make them lighter and more flexible to resist injury, like Spider-Man.
Would humans ever be able to understand all languages like Wonder Woman or have indestructible armour like the one she wears?
Universal language deciphering is being developed by engineers now and wireless ear pieces like Apple’s airpods and speech recognition tech (like siri) could be used to ensure we can understand multiple languages.
Wonder Woman’s bracelets are indestructible and able to absorb the impact of incoming attacks. We already have bullet proof vests but these only absorb bullets often leaving the wearer injured. To engineer Wonder Woman’s bracelets, carbon nanotubes could be woven to repel the force of attacks rather than absorb it.
Will humans ever be able to be invisible?
In the future, fabricated artificial materials called ‘metamaterials’ could allow engineers to harness the power of Marvel’s The Invisible Woman. Engineers have recently worked out how in principle to ‘cloak’ objects to make them invisible – by bending the light around them and back onto its original path, they can block the view of the object to the eye.
Is it possible to create regenerative power like Wolverine?
In the future it could be created by bio-printing – a type of 3D printing that prints cells, which could be used to print new organs eventually.
Are we any closer to actually making a real Iron Man suit?
By looking at the advances in reading brain waves and understanding how these control different actions, engineers could create a suit like this. The suit could be controlled by our minds.
Of course, whilst we had a great time answering questions, as with any mission, there was an end goal. Who knows if we will ever be able to jump buildings in one bound or have the strength of the Incredible Hulk, but it will be engineers and scientists who go on to create and design our world for the better. With the current engineering skills shortage in the UK, there is an urgent need to get more young people, particularly girls, interested in engineering and technology and showcase the exciting range of creative engineering jobs. We expect that an engineering career will become ever more diverse, varied and exciting, changing much more over time than has been traditional – which will be hugely rewarding. I’d encourage any parent or young person to visit the IET’s Engineer a Better world or the Tomorrow’s Engineers websites to find out more. Engineers assemble!
For more information about the IET’s Engineer a Better World campaign, click here
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