Article on BBC Science Focus about Iron Man and Non-Spherical Particles

Most of the time my fundamental research at TU Delft and my superhero work walk side by side with no obvious overlap between the two topics. However, earlier this year, one of the PhD students in our group published a very nice paper about drag forces experienced by non-spherical particles in fluid flows. In the paper, they found that the drag force experienced by a particle in the flow could be calculated for any orientation of the particle provided you know the drag force when the particle is parallel to the flow and perpendicular to the flow.

Now like many science papers it is very technical but with some very nice illustrations and diagrams. After I read the paper I got the idea to write a popular science article about the work and link it to the drag forces that Iron Man might experience. When Tony Stark is in the suit he sort of looks like a non-spherical particle in a way.

The article was published last week on BBC Science Focus Online magazine and can be read here. The article has even shared the front page for some time with an article about Stephen Hawking. You can see this in the image below with my article on the bottom right of the image.

Stay tuned as I've another article in the pipeline.


Interview for Midland Science Festival and Science Week 2017

Last week I spoke with the organisers of the Midlands Science Festival, which is arranging events as part of Science Week Ireland 2017. I'll be speaking at the Edgeworthstown festival on Saturday November 18th and very much looking forward to visiting Longford to spread the Superhero Science vibes.

Below is the interview. You can also check out the interview by clicking here.

Barry, we are delighted that you will be taking part in this year’s Midlands Science Festival. Can you tell us a little about what attendees can expect at your event?

First of all let me say that I’m really looking forward to being a part of this year’s Midlands Science Festival. When I was asked to be a part of the festival I had no hesitation in saying yes to the invite. Thank you very much for having as part of the festival.

The superhero genre has become one of the most popular in modern cinema. Each year numerous superhero films are released and 2017 is no exception. In fact just before Science Week Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League will be released. As a result superhero characters such as Thor, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash will all be the subject of media coverage around the time of the Midlands Science Festival. I’m sure that many people would love to have the superpowers of some of these characters.

During my talks at the Midlands Science Festival the audience are going to hear about some of the incredible scientific research from around the world that could lead to the superpowers of the superheroes in the future. I’ll be talking about the science behind Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Invisible Woman and many other superheroes. In addition I’ll also be talking about the ultimate superhero – Santa Claus. Every Christmas Santa travels around the world, a journey that is made possible thanks to his advanced science and technology. I hope to inspire some of the audience to think differently about science, to think differently about superpowers and to possibly pursue a career in science and engineering in the future. Who knows someone at the Midlands Science Festival could be the first person to build and wear a fully working Iron Man suit!

What is your background? Did you study science at university?

I have a degree in Applied Physics from the University of Limerick and a PhD in Computational Physics from the same university. In 2012 I moved to the Netherlands to continue my research career. I’ve worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Twente and Eindhoven University of Technology. Currently I’m working as a researcher in the 3mE faculty of the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). My current research is focused on biomass energy, computer simulations of fluidized bed reactors, collective motion in people and birds, and the rheology of polymer systems.

What initially steered you towards a career in science?

When I was younger I was enthralled by mathematics. I remember I finished “Busy at Maths 5”, my 5th class maths book, three months before the end of the school year. It wasn’t until I went to secondary school that I became fascinated by science. Back then I didn’t have access to a resource such as the Internet. Perhaps if I had access to such an amazing resource my interest in science might have started at a younger age. During my Junior Certificate years I always remember being fascinated by physics given that it combined mathematics with a study of how matter moves through space and time. When it came to my Leaving Certificate I selected a series of numerical subjects including applied mathematics, physics, chemistry and accounting. For a time I even contemplated becoming an accountant but the attraction of physics was too great to ignore. While growing up I was also captivated by the idea of time travel from films like the Back to the Future trilogy and Star Trek 4. I read quite a few popular science books about time travel and the possibility of building a time machine. These books highlighted the importance of physics and mathematics to realizing time travel, which, I should add, is not prohibited by the laws of physics (well time travel to the future is definitely possible). My reading, my interest in mathematics and passion for physics all served to influence my decision to pursue a career in science.

Please tell us a little about your books.

I’ve written and self-published two popular science books – Secrets of Superhero Science and Secret Science of Santa Claus.

In the Secrets of Superhero Science I describe the fundamental science that you would learn at school and current scientific research that could lead to superpowers in the future. I discuss the possibility of creating the X-Men, replicating the power of invisibility possessed by the Invisible Woman and the possibility of building Spider-Man’s web-slingers. In addition I also discuss the implications of introducing superpowers to modern society.

In my second book, Secret Science of Santa Claus, I discuss the science and technology behind perhaps the greatest superhero of all time – Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus delivers present to millions of children around the world. This extraordinary endeavour would be impossible without Santa’s innovative technological gadgets.  In the book I describe the science behind Santa’s flying reindeer, his cutting-edge weather prediction methods and why Santa Claus is an ultramarathon runner. I also discuss how Santa’s gift-bringing will change onwards into the 21st century. Right now I’m busy working on my next book, which I hope will be ready for the first half of 2018.

Why are national events like Science Week so important do you think?

The importance of national events such as Science Week cannot be understated. First and foremost Science Week is a unique platform facilitating connection and engagement on scientific matters and concepts with the general public. I first presented workshops as part of Science Week in 2015. That week was a fantastic experience as I spoke about many topics in science at a number of schools around the country. I enjoyed being part of Science Week so much that I cameback again last year to speak in schools, bookshops and libraries. In addition I opened Science Week 2016 at the University of Limerick.

Science Week is an opportunity for researchers and those working in scientific communication to inspire the next generation of scientists in addition to astounding people of all ages. Science Week is a chance for scientists to tell the public about some of the incredible scientific advancements taking place right now and how it will impact on their lives in the near future. Importantly the science is explained in an accessible language and using relevant connections to the real world. When anyone attends one of my Science Week workshops I want him or her to engage with science in a unique way and to think differently about science. The relevance of science in modern society is often forgotten and even taken for granted. Science Week promotes the importance of science for the real world and encourages the general public to engage with science on a daily basis. Science isn’t just for one week. Science is for life.

Galway International Arts Festival and The Power of Superheroes

My adventures in the superhero world has thus far afforded me the opportunity to speak at events and locations that I could never have anticipated. From speaking at Dutch Comic Con to hosting a conference on Superhero Science at TU Delft, it really has one great experience after another.

Last weekend I added an arts festival to the list as I spoke on a panel as part of the Galway Arts International Festival. The panel entitled "The Power of Superheroes" and took place at the Bailey Allen Theatre on the NUI Galway campus. I shared the stage with some inspiring speakers and contributors as Jen Coppinger, Maura McHugh, Declan Shalvey and myself spoke for one hour about the superhero genre. Conversation ranged from the definition of a hero to the impact of ethics on the superhero genre. Although we only spoke for an hour I think we could have spoken for four or five hours. The conversation flowed and the superhero chatter was inspiring. An audience of almost 100 people listened attentively and contributed some great questions for open discussion.

In terms of my superhero adventure thus far this is right up there as one of the highlights and I hope to get the chance to speak once more in the future at the Galway International Arts Festival. For those who have yet to attend the festival please consider adding it to your future agendas. The line up this year was magnificent with music from all genres, art, performances and talks. Musicians such as Brian Wilson, Passenger and The Coronas performed over the course of the two weeks. The festival is a great advertisement for the city of Galway.


Secrets of Superhero Science at IFoT

With Wonder Woman being released in cinemas around the world this month, many of you might be dreaming of super-strength, bullet-proof bracelets or even the lasso of truth.

On Wednesday 7th June, the symposium " Secrets of Superhero Science" will take place at TU Delft as part of the International Festival of Technology (IFoT). This symposium will focus on Superhero Science and the possibility of creating superpowers in the future including bulletproof materials that could replicate Wonder Woman's bulletproof bracelets.

It's been a real adventure putting the event together in conjunction with the great team involved in the organisation of the IFoT in Delft. I've got to say I'm very much looking forward to hosting the event, hearing what the speakers have to say about their work and how their work relates to creating superpowers and hearing from the audience during and after the event.

I promise a fun, entertaining and educational event and I hope to see you there.



NRC Weekend Covers the Secrets of Superhero Science

It's just under 2 and half weeks from the Secrets of Superhero Science symposium at the International Festival of Technology, and I've got to say I'm pretty excited about it. The preparations are going well and I've spoken to all of the speakers over the last few weeks. I can't wait to hear what they have to say and hopefully there'll be a big crowd present on the day to hear about their amazing research and the link with superpower technologies.

In the lead up to the event I'm hoping that there'll be some media coverage. Over the past weekend the first article about the conference was published in the NRC Weekend on the page "De Kleine Wetenschap", a page of articles on science for younger readers. The article was written by Karel Berkhout. You can find the article below. However it's in Dutch so my apologises to those without Dutch.


Secrets of Superhero Science at the International Festival of Technology at TU Delft

Since I published my book "Secrets of Superhero Science" back in February last year it's been an exciting superhero-filled superpower-fuelled adventure. And the adventure continues to astound!

Next month as part of the International Festival of Technology I will be hosting the 1st ever symposium on Superhero Science. The symposium - Secrets of Superhero Science - will bring together speakers from various fields to discuss their work and the implications for possible superpowers in the future. There will genetics, 3D bioprinting, exoskeletons, bullet-proof materials, nano-vision and ethics. I've got to say I'm hugely excited about the event and can't wait to host the incredible speakers I've got lined up for the symposium. A full list of the speakers can be found right here.

Stay tuned for more updates on the event over the coming days and weeks. It's going to be super!




Secrets of Superhero Science: An Overview for Spui 25

In February I was asked to speak as part of a public debate/discussion at Spui 25, the academic and cultural podium in Amsterdam. The date for been set for June 12th and I'm very much looking forward to speaking at the event. As part of the event I've written a short text motivating the talk/discussion. You can check it out here. It'll give you a general idea of what will be spoken about at the event. If you're in Amsterdam on June 12th it would be great to see you there.

Secrets of Superhero Science: Are we ready for superpowers?

We find ourselves in the middle of a cinematic superhero revolution that shows no signs of abating. Superhero films are big business, as demonstrated by their box office receipts. For example the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War became the 12th highest grossing film of all time when it made more than $1.1 billion dollars at the worldwide box office. By the year 2020 we will see the release of 25 (or more) superhero films. The superhero genre is very much here to stay.

One of the driving forces behind the success of the superhero film is the escapism it provides to a fictitious world jam-packed with people possessing superpowers that are seemingly beyond the real world. Invariably many of the audience have, at one time or another, envisaged having a superpower of some sort be it an Iron Man suit, the regenerative healing powers of Wolverine or Deadpool, the power of invisibility possessed by Sue Storm or the ability to shrink like Ant-Man. Superpowers would allow us to do things we do not normally see on an daily basis.

Thanks to modern scientific and engineering research, the superpowers of the superheroes may no longer be reserved for cinema. Humanity stands on the cusp of a superpower future with scientists and engineers working on some astounding research projects that could produce superpower technology as a viable spin-off. For example, thanks to advanced genetic editing techniques like the CRISPR/Cas system, in the future we could bioengineer some of the X-Men characters. A number inventors and engineers are developing technologies to mimic a flying Iron Man suit while other researchers have turned to graphene or spider silk to create advanced bullet-proof materials. Thanks to these technological endeavours we could see superpower technologies sooner rather than later.

Before superpowers can be introduced into society though we must ensure that laws, policies or protocols are put in place to safeguard society. We need to introduce these technologies in a safe manner and accurately assess their impact before their introduction. In Captain America: Civil War the United Nations introduces a set of accords to monitor or control superpower activity after a number of events around the world lead to significant collateral damage. This is a case of the “cart before the horse”. Many may contend that the manner of the introduction of the accords is contentious. But the film does provide a valuable lesson that can be applied to not only superpower technologies but also future technological advancements. We must predict, to the best of our ability, the implications of superpowers or new technologies on society. In addition they should be introduced in a manner that facilitates both integration with society and easy adaptations. Undoubtedly there will be ethical hurdles on our path to superpowers and these should be met with the respect that they merit. Nonetheless cautious progressions could in many ways hinder the development of society, and as a result delay the superpower/superhero era.

Are you ready for a superpower future?

Are you ready for the great power and great responsibility?

Are you ready to unlock the Secrets of Superhero Science?


Biosensors/Secrets of Superhero Science at Physics at Veldhoven

It's March 1st. Where did January and February go? Time flies when you're working working.

Yesterday I managed to see a pre-screening of Logan in Eindhoven. I won't delving into the film right now (I'll do that at a later date) but all I'll say is that both Jackman and Patrick Stewart were impeccable in the film, a testament to their portrayal of these two famous X-Men characters.

Back in January (seems like a long time ago now) I presented a series of experiments at Physics@Veldhoven, a huge conference for all of the physics researchers in the Netherlands. These experiments were all superhero-themed and the photographer for the event took some quite memorable photos from the event. Over the next few days I'll be sharing some of the images with you and giving a brief overview of the experiments that were presented. For each experiment BW Science linked up with a  business or university in the Netherlands to present their work with a tangible link to superheroes.

First up it's biosensors. The Iron Man suit is one of the greatest inventions in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is the ultimate wearable technology and allows Tony Stark, the inventor and principle wearer, to fly and fire weapons as he desires. In addition to being an incredible suit, it is also makes use of advanced biosensors that monitors Stark's bodily functions round-the-clock.

The vision of personalised medicine is that of miniature biosensors for personal sensing near, on, or inside the body. SensUs, a competition organised by students at TU Eindhoven, has the aim of stimulating innovation in biosensing worldwide. The first competition took place in 2016 during which five teams developed biosensors to monitor creatinine, a waste product biomarker that is normally filtered by the kidneys, in the blood. Team T.E.S.T. from TU Eindhoven took part in the competition and went home with one of the competition awards. It was a fantastic competition and as Master of Ceremonies for the final in September 2016 I sampled the event firsthand.

For my Physics@Veldhoven experiments members of the T.E.S.T. team and Menno Prins of TU Eindhoven brought along there ingenious biosensor to display, a biosensor smaller than a smartphone and one that can be connected to a smartphone to give a digital interpretation of the biological data. The development of devices like this can have huge benefits for health care in the future. But it might also hold the key towards the development of biosensors for a future Iron Man-like suit.


Writing with the Avengers in TU Delft Delta magazine

In late November last year I was contacted by Heather Montague who writes a column entitled "Avocations" for TU Delft's Delta magazine. Heather expressed an interest in writing an article about me and my writing hobby outside of academia. Of course I was delighted to be asked about the article and the interview was done in early December along with a photograph of myself in writing action.

On Monday 6th February, the article along with the photo were published on the back of the TU Delta magazine for February. The article describes my writing adventures so far and the publication of my books about the science of superheroes and Santa Claus. The photo shows me in the middle of a writing binge surrounded by some of the Avengers. I am indeed in the middle of writing my 3rd book so watch this space for updates over the next few months.

You can check out the article online on the avocations page of the TU Delta magazine.

Below is an image of the full article and picture.


Awaiting the Superhero Extravaganza

It seems that 2017 is rocketing by with the end of January fast approaching. While many are still grappling with New Years resolutions and others planning their summer holidays, I find myself these days impatiently waiting for the start of the Superhero Cinematic Adventures for 2017.

While many will include the new Power Rangers film in their superhero list I'm limiting myself to the superhero films from Marvel and DC. This year all four film studios - Fox, Warner Bros., Sony and Disney - will be releasing at least one superhero adventure over the course of the year.

But before we get a chance to see Thor and the Hulk team up in Thor:Ragnarok or Batman recruit the Flash, Cyborg and Aquanman for the Justice League, the first film to kick-off the superhero extravaganza for 2017 will be Logan, which is released at the start of March. The film sees Hugh Jackman take on the role of Wolverine for one last time on the big screen (Naturally many, including me, are holding out hope that Ryan Reynolds can convince Jackman to return for a Deadpool-Wolverine crossover film in the future). Jackman is joined by Patrick Stewart who plays Professor Xavier. Set in the year 2029, the film follows the fortunes of Xavier and Jackman in a desolate future where mutants seem to have vanished, bar Wolverine and Professor X.

I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the first two Wolverine films and that Wolverine has had his best moments in the ensemble films, in particular X-Men:Days of Future Past. Fingers crossed that Logan delivers and that the fans will have a Wolverine cinematic adventure to truly appreciate.

As we close in on the first superhero film of the year I'm busy working on new materials for my 2017 workshops. I've got some exciting ideas already in place. I'll keep you posted on these in the coming weeks and months.