Category Archives: superhero

How Winter Soldier Could Be Able To Withstand Freezing Temperatures? (Superhero / Biology)

James Buchanan “Bucky’’ Barnes is a fictional superhero/supervillain character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Also known as the Winter Soldier, he is able to withstand the biological impairment of cryogenic freezing. But how? Well, Ilja Voets and colleagues now answered this question. Following his super-soldier experimentation, they suggested that, the Winter Soldier’s DNA has been modified to such an extent that he can naturally produce Anti-Freeze Glycoproteins (AF(G)Ps) when his body is subjected to freezing temperatures.

“It is possible that during these treatments the Winter Soldier’s DNA has been adequately modified to allow his body to naturally produce the winter flounder type I AFP.”

— they said.

They got this idea from Arctic and Antarctic fish species. These species produce AF(G)Ps in two different ways which help them to survive in their cold, ice-laden habitats. First, by lowering the freezing temperature of water in comparison to the melting temperature, creating a temperature gap known as the thermal hysteresis (TH) gap. Second, by the ice recrystallization inhibition (IRI) activity, in which these fishes ingest small ice crystals throughout their life span and their AF(G)Ps block further growth of the internalized ice crystals, enabling the fish to survive despite the presence of small ice grains in their blood and in certain vital organs.

“AF(G)Ps would be a more plausible way to improve cryopreservation given that they inhibit ice recrystallization in marine fish.” they said. “It is likely that the Winter Soldier is injected with some sort of serum or medication prior to being brought in cryostatus in the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This serum could contain synthetic cryoprotectants as well as an anaesthetic leading to loss of awareness and external sensation. However, we contend that following his super-soldier experimentation, the Winter Soldier’s DNA has been modified to such an extent that he can naturally produce AF(G)Ps when his body is subjected to freezing temperatures.”

They also hypothesized that, advancement in genetic engineering techniques like CRISPR/Cas9, could be very important for the possible development of genetically advanced humans such as the Winter Soldier in future scientific laboratories. It may be possible to insert the wf-afp gene into human DNA using the CRISPR/Cas9, thus providing the human body with the necessary genetic code to potentially produce the wf-AFP protein. As a result, we would be able to replicate in part the Winter Soldier’s ability to produce proteins to combat ice crystal growth that could arise during cryopreservation.

“However, giving the human body the ability to produce antifreeze proteins when in cryostatus is only part of the story. Unlike the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), scientists in the real world have yet to develop techniques that can resuscitate a person from cryostatus.”

— they concluded.

Reference: Suris-Valls, R., Mehmedbasic, M., & Voets, I. K. (2018). Marine Fish Antifreeze Proteins: The Key Towards Cryopreserving The Winter Soldier. Superhero Science and Technology, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.24413/sst.2018.1.2105


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Can We Manipulate Matter Like Thanos? (Quantum / Superhero)

Being able to manipulate matter has been a long-standing goal in material science. Would it not be amazing if we could control matter on the grand scale that Thanos does when in possession of the Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War? Now, Ravensteijn and colleagues evaluated how far mankind has come in the pursuit of Thanos-like matter manipulation powers. Their study appeared in the Journal Superhero Science and Technology.

They have shown that controlling matter, regardless of the length scale, requires control over the forces between objects. To control large (macroscopic) objects, a large amount of energy is needed. One way to control such objects is to acquire the Infinity Gauntlet complete with the six Infinity Stones, just like Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. But, we can now mimic part of Thanos’ control over matter at the colloidal scale.

“We can now make a wide range of colloidal particles with tunable responsiveness, patchiness, shapes, and sizes. By controlling the interparticle forces, we can manipulate billions (yes billions!) of colloids at the same time by varying triggers such as temperature, pH, and light.”

— authors of the study.

What are colloidals?

The world of colloids lies between atoms and the objects. Colloidal materials consist of a large number of small particles such as solid particles, gas bubbles, or liquid droplets, that are mixed through a medium (such as a liquid, gas or solid). Due to their small dimensions, the earth’s gravity has little to no effect on these particles. This means that colloids dispersed in a medium do not (or barely) sink to the bottom of the container in which you keep them. However, this does not imply that colloids are immobile. Colloids are continuously moving, a phenomenon that scientists refer to as Brownian motion. These movements are the result of constant collisions between molecules of the dispersing medium (such as water molecules) and the colloids.

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the dimensions of objects ranging from the molecular/atomistic world to the macroscopic world. Representative examples of objects from life (real world and the MCU) are depicted to illustrate the specific length scales. The red triangular arrows depict the contribution of thermal motion and gravitational forces for objects with different characteristic dimensions. The colloidal domain ranges from roughly 10¯8 to 10¯6 m and is highlighted on the diagram. © Ravensteijn et al.

What scientists achieved?

Similar to Thanos’ ability to modify matter with by activating or triggering the appropriate Infinity Stone in the Infinity Gauntlet, colloid scientists started to study colloidal systems that can switch between the assembled and disassembled states, or even between assemblies with different internal structures. A popular and successful route for scientists towards these responsive particles is to decorate the surface of the colloids with molecules that can feel and respond to external changes or triggers in the environment, such as changes in pH, temperature, or the level of illumination with particular types of light (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Illustration of responsive colloidal systems. Upon applying Trigger i, e.g., a change (Δ) in pH, temperature, or illumination with UV light, the particles are switched from a non-interacting (left) to an activated state (right). In the active state assembly takes place. The assembly can be disintegrated by applying Trigger ii. Controlling these triggers is analogous to Thanos activating an Infinity Stone to manipulate matter. Switching between the disassembled and assembled state can be followed by microscopy or even macroscopic color changes. Scale bars: 5 μm. Microscopy images were adapted from ref. 50. 2015, Nature Publishing Group. © Ravensteijn et al.

Initially, the particles are not drawn to each other (they are in a non-interactive state). But, applying a trigger creates an attractive force between the particles that eventually leads to the creation of hierarchical structures. Applying a second trigger (or stopping the first one), removes the attraction between the particles and the assembly gradually falls apart again. This is a genuine “activation of the appropriate Infinity Stone” moment to manipulate colloids.

“In contrast to the instantaneous changes Thanos can make with his gauntlet, the assembly and disassembly of colloidal particles generally takes some time. A little patience is required to allow the colloids to find or move away from each other via Brownian motion. The time required for (dis)assembly can vary from seconds to hours and depends on the particle concentration and the strength of the attractive or repulsive forces generated by the applied triggers.”

— authors of the study.

Finally, scientists proved that, to manipulate matter, the Infinity Stones are not strictly necessary. There is no need to roam the universe for the stones just like Thanos did in Avengers: Infinity War. The answer may very well be right in front of us, and at the microscopic scale. The answer is colloids.


Reference: van Ravensteijn, B. G., Magana, J. R., & Voets, I. K. (2020). Manipulating matter with a snap of your fingers: A touch of Thanos in colloid science. Superhero Science and Technology, 2(1), 19–30. https://doi.org/10.24413/sst.2020.1.5329


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How To Build A Synthetic Digestive System For Marvel’s Vision? (Science and Technology / Superhero)

If you are the marvel fan, you may have been very well aware of vision character. If not, let me tell you, vision is a synthezoid or say, synthetic human, who is a member of the Avengers and constantly striving to be more human. In the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Vision is based on advanced robotics and bioengineering technologies. However, his body contains biological cells, and his external appearance consists of eyes, a mouth, a nose, teeth, and fingernails; traditional human attributes. Unlike humans, Vision does not eat as his metabolic energy requirements are met by a fictional alien artefact known as the “Mind Stone”. Nonetheless, given that Vision has eyes and a tongue, could he also have other organs? Does his body contain the organs for a synthetic digestive system? And if so, how would these organs meet his body’s metabolic energy needs?

Now, Falk J. Tauber & Barry W. Fitzgerald showed how advancements in soft robotics and the development of biocompatible self-actuating and self-sensing materials can be combined to build an artificial digestive system for marvel’s vision. Their study recently appeared in the Journal Superhero Science and Technology.

How It Can Be Built?

It is built from a combination of the various systems: the SBPP (silicone based biomimetic peristaltic pump) as an artificial oesophagus, intestines, and for the rectum, and the SoGut system as an artificial stomach (as shown in fig. 1). The structured inner conduits of intestines are lined with tissue scaffolds growing epithelial tissue cells forming folds and villi. Beneath the scaffold layer is network of microfluidic channels imitating a circulatory system, with together with the tissue cells an organ-on-a-chip like system.

Figure 1: The possible artificial digestive system for Vision. © Tauber and Fitzgerald

“Even defecating would be possible with the SBPP system, which would allow Vision to rid his body of digestive waste products, just like the other Avengers.”

Can We Use All These Devices To Build A Synthetic Digestive System Today?

Well, not yet. But why?

Guys, the main role of our digestive system is to convert food into energy. In this process, the food must be decomposed and metabolised. The mechanical part of the decomposition is possible with today’s soft robotic-based systems, and a living biofilm and tissue cells is a first step towards metabolisation. However, there are many more factors to consider.

For example, specific digestive juices are produced by glands that break down and decompose foods with the help of acids and enzymes, in addition to mechanical breakdown. As a result, food is broken down into its components such that the body’s cells can use them as an energy source. In Vision’s case, this energy could also come from electrochemical reactions in a microbial fuel cell (MFC) system powered by food. Though a hydrogen fuel cell would cover Vision basal energy needs, to have sufficient energy to fight villains, Vision would need a more sustainable energy source, which could be provided by an artificial digestive system.

What else would be needed?

The system would also need to transmit and communicate information to Vision’s “brain” so that Vision could experience hunger or even butterflies in his stomach. For this, Vision’s digestive system would also need chemical- and mechanoreceptors and sensors. In humans, common triggers for hunger are blood glucose and insulin levels as glucose is one of the main sources of metabolic energy. Another stimulus would be signals associated with mechano- and chemoreceptors, which sense whether food is currently in the stomach or intestine and send signals to the brain for replenishment. This is a very strong simplification of the highly complex processes. Overall, Vision would not only need a fully artificial digestive system, but also complimentary nervous and circulatory systems.

How would humanity benefit from the development of an artificial digestive system?

First, these systems could serve as prostheses and provide replacements for key organs in the digestive system. Second, these systems could be used in the development of food for dysphagia patients. Third, these systems could be used in the clinical treatment of patients with digestion problems.

“These technologies could conceivably have a positive impact on the fields of healthcare and energy. In the meantime, plans for an artificial digestive system that provides sufficient energy to sustain a synthezoid like the MCU’s Vision are still very much a work in progress.”

— they concluded.

Reference: Tauber, F., & Fitzgerald, B. W. (2021). How to build a synthetic digestive system for Marvel’s Vision. Superhero Science and Technology, 2(2), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.24413/sst.2021.2.5636


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