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.



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.


Secrets Soars into 2017 with Studium Generale talk in Eindhoven

So it’s 2017 and it’s another year. After an epic 2016 and a very busy promotion schedule at the end of the year for “Secret Science of Santa Claus” 2017 kicked off with a talk in de Blauwe Zaal at TU Eindhoven as part of the program for Stadium Generale.

An audience of more than 200 people attended and met by a wave of superhero facts, trivia and clips as the talk opened with a trailer for the highly anticipated Spider-Man: Homecoming which reaches cinemas in July 2017. After testing their superhero knowledge, the audience were taken on a short tour of the science behind possibly creating the superpowers of their favourite heroes.

The Vision, Iron Man, the Invisible Woman and Spider-Man were all the subject of discussion. And the powers of these four superheroes will also be the subject of a huge presentation I’m giving next week at the Physics@Veldhoven conference. Stay tuned for further updates over the coming days on that event!


Superheroes and Santa Claus are very much a part of Science Week Ireland

Secret Science series

Just over half way through my Science Week adventure and it has been a fantastic experience so far. I’ve spoken in Ennis, Limerick and Dublin and tomorrow I’m set to speak in Waterford and Dungarvan. Science Week has brought me from west to east and now down to the south coast. I’m getting a lightning tour of the Irish countryside.

Over the last few days I’ve met many students, teachers and members of the general public who have been fascinated by the amazing science behind the superheroes and Santa Claus. There is definitely the chance that some of the students will go on to create superpowers in the future. Hopefully they’ll remember where they got the ideas from and cite me in their Nobel Prize speeches.


Should We Really Fear Spider Webs at Halloween?


(Image credit: Jean-Philippe Frimat)

In the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and his guide Sapito, played by Alfred Molina, enter a spooky cave searching for an ancient golden relic. A veil of cobwebs obstructs their path, which the pair easily brushes aside. Suddenly Sapito sees a number of tarantula spiders on Indy’s back. When Indy asks Sapito to turn around, Sapito’s back is covered with spiders. Sounds quite unpleasant for both of them!

For many, walking through a cobweb-coated tarantula-filled cave is the stuff of nightmares. Big or small, spiders strike fear in countless. The fact that a film was named after this fear, the 1990 film Arachnophobia starring Jeff Daniels, shows how commonplace the fear is. For some, just a glimpse of a spider web can prove enough to give them the “heebie-jeebies”.

Most spiders are harmless, with less than 30 species out of about 43,000 behind human fatalities. Their webs might look haunting in derelict houses or dark caves but they serve a greater purpose – the webs are used to trap unsuspecting prey. In this way, the spider is spared a potentially fruitless chase, but it requires considerable spider-patience.

Webs are made from spider silk that is produced from spinneret glands in the spider’s abdomen. Silk is a protein, just like the proteins we produce in our bodies such as collagen in skin and ligaments, and keratin in hair. Some spiders even eat their old web before building another. Waste not want not!

Incredibly spider silk is one of the toughest natural materials on the planet, tougher than Kevlar, the material generally used in bulletproof vests. Being tougher means that spider silk can stretch a lot more than Kevlar before it breaks. Although Indiana Jones and Sapito were easily able to stretch and break cobwebs in Raiders of the Lost Ark, they would struggle to break the webs if they were 0.5 metres thick.

The toughness of spider silk has motivated researchers to integrate spider silk with bulletproof technologies. But spiders are small, so setting up a factory to extract silk from millions of spiders sounds silly. Instead, researchers have turned to transgenesis. They isolated the gene behind spider silk production in golden silk orb-weavers, a species renowned for their very tough silk, and inserted it into the DNA of goats. When the herds of spider-goats were milked, filaments of silk were also found in the milk! Once extracted and treated, the silk can then be used to create bulletproof technology.

For example, Jalila Essaïdi, a bio-artist based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands has combined transgenic spider silk with human skin to create a hybrid skin that can stop slow moving bullets! Although the bulletproof skin can’t stop normal-speed bullets (just yet), this study shows that spider silk shouldn’t be feared. Spider silk could potentially save us. Further applications for spider silk could include indestructible fishing lines or parachute cables, and replacement knee ligaments! Imagine having spider silk knee ligaments!

So this Halloween, instead of fearing spiders and their seemingly haunting abodes, we all should embrace their amazing webs. Bulletproof hybrid skin and unbreakable spider silk ligaments could be the way of the future, and all thanks to the amazing properties of spider silk.

Finally, spare a thought for poor Alfred Molina. That tarantula-covered role in Raiders of the Lost Ark was his first major film. But just over two decades later, Molina was battling spiders once again. As Doctor Octopus, he was vanquished by Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2. Oh the irony! Is Alfred Molina’s career cursed by spiders?

Tipp FM greets the Secrets of Superhero Science


In case you missed it I was speaking on Tipp FM in Ireland on Wednesday 17th August about the Secrets of Superhero Science. It was great to speak once again about superheroes and science, two subjects I’m very passionate about of course. Iron Man and the X-Men were subject to discussion and there was conversation about the fantastically amazing material that is spider silk.

If you want to listen to the interview you can check it out by clicking here. Move to the last 10 minutes of the podcast to find my interview.


Newstalk’s Futureproof hears about Secrets of Superhero Science


At the moment I’m relaxing in Ireland, on the west coast in Kilkee, Co. Clare, getting some time to unwind after a hectic few weeks and months. Just over two weeks ago I had one of those crazy weekends consisting of two gigs with Ten Tap Trouble, work spilling over into the weekend, falling ill with the summer cold that has taken out so many over the last few weeks and Ireland played France in the second round of EURO 2016.

In the midst of all of that, on Saturday June 25th I spoke with Jonathan McCrea on Newstalk’s Futureproof program about the Secrets of Superhero Science. The interview touched on my infatuation with the superhero film genre, superhero film history and of course super-science and the science that could possibly lead to superpowers in the future. I spoke about the X-Men and genetics, Iron Man and the technology behind the suit and Spider-Man and spiderwebs.

If you want to listen to the interview just click here to hear the podcast. You’ll have to scroll a bit into the podcast to find my segment.

This week on Thursday July 14th I’ll be at Hodges Figgis in Dublin. Hope to see you there. I’ll be starting my super-science lecture at 18.00.