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The Physics of Superman 421

eieken writes "The physics of Superman mostly belong in the realm of comic books, but some scientists decided to give their input on the matter. The article tells of 'a scientific experiment in which a researcher put several chickens in a centrifuge and raised them in twice-normal gravity for months at a time. When they emerged, the chickens were stronger and had larger bones and muscles, and greater endurance. In other words, they were superchickens.' Do they have human sized centrifuges?"
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The Physics of Superman

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  • Question... (Score:5, Funny)

    by crazyjeremy ( 857410 ) * on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:44PM (#15672800) Homepage Journal
    But can the superchickens fly now?
    • by HTTP Error 403 403.9 ( 628865 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:54PM (#15672848)
      Don't these physicist have anything better to do than make super strong dizzy chickens?
    • Re:Question... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Blymie ( 231220 ) * on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:58PM (#15672867)
      Chickens can fly, they just have their wings clipped to prevent this.

      http://www.omlet.co.uk/guide/guide.php?view=Chicke ns&cat=Chicken%20Care&sub=wing%20clipping [omlet.co.uk]
      • Re:Question... (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Almost all breeds of chickens (especially domesticated) cannot really fly... at least not like you see pigeons, doves, swallows, etc. fly. It is more of a semi-powered unstable glide and they can only maintain it for relatively short distances.

        The can "fly" just enough to get up into the relatively low branches of trees, over tall fences, gliding down from heights and of course as a method of faster escape at ground level.
      • Re:Question... (Score:3, Informative)

        by KevinIsOwn ( 618900 )
        My chickens didn't have their wings clipped, and they could still barely fly. They could make it into 10 foot high branches without too much of a problem. They were also incredibly good at evading my attempts to catch them, flying into trees, decks, roofs...
        • by Anonymous Coward
          The solution in three words: solid rocket boosters.
      • Re:Question... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by swillden ( 191260 ) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:46AM (#15673314) Homepage Journal

        Chickens can fly

        Not really. Chickens can fly for very short distances and limited heights. They can get over fences and travel maybe 40 feet at a time. After one such "long" flight, they can barely get off the ground and prefer to run.

        they just have their wings clipped to prevent this.

        Chickens that are kept outdoors in pens without high walls have their wings clipped. I don't know what the minimum "safe" wall height is, but most unroofed outdoor pens I've seen use wire mesh about seven feet high. Smaller pens can use shorter walls because the chickens need quite a bit of horizontal room to reach their maximum height above ground. Wing clipping doesn't actually reduce their wings' lift much, mainly it just removes the ends of the primary feathers which are necessary for controlled flight. Chicken flight is pretty erratic and wild at best, and without those feather tips they just can't control it at all.

      • by LoverOfJoy ( 820058 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:17AM (#15673411) Homepage
        It's called falling...with style.
    • by Walt Dismal ( 534799 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:31AM (#15673265)
      But can the superchickens fly now?

      Not only can they fly, but they think nothing of beating up Klingon chickens. These chickens are so bad, they'll rip off their drumsticks and smack you upside the head with them. These chickens are so strong, you have to fry them in 40 weight motor oil. These are SERIOUS chickens.

    • by jlarocco ( 851450 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @02:31AM (#15673619) Homepage
      But can the superchickens fly now?

      Possibly, but in any case, here are some facts:

      1. Super-chickens are chickens.
      2. Super-chickens fight all the time.
      3. The purpose of the super-chicken is to flip out and kill people.

      Super-chickens can kill anyone they want! Super-chickens cut off heads ALL the time and don't even think twice about it. These chickens are so crazy and awesome that they flip out ALL the time. I heard that there was this super-chicken who was eating at a diner. And when some dude bit into a drumstick the super-chicken killed the whole town. My friend Mark said that he saw a super-chicken totally uppercut some kid just because the kid opened a window.

    • Thank you folks, I'll be here all week. Don't forget to try out our potato bar, the finest in all Des Moines!

      -Eric

  • by freemywrld ( 821105 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:45PM (#15672806) Homepage
    Is it time to welcome our new super-chicken overlords?
  • And here I thought Fred's super sauce was the reason for super chickens.....

    http://www.digital-sledgehammer.com/superchicken/l yrics.htm [digital-sledgehammer.com]

    Yet another great reason to live in Pittsburgh.....
  • Web server (Score:5, Funny)

    by mh101 ( 620659 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:47PM (#15672813)
    Looks like they should have put their web server in the centrifuge as well...

  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by delirium of disorder ( 701392 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:47PM (#15672817) Homepage Journal
    It's difficult to tell from this vantage point whether they will consume the captive earth men or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the chickens will soon be here. And I for one welcome our new centrifuge generated superchicken overlords.
  • The Sayan of Planet Vegeta know it for a long time...
    • I was thinking also of the Jinxians from Larry Niven's "Known Space" universe. First introduced in the novel World of Ptaavs (now in print as part of the Three Books of Known Space [amazon.com] omnibus), the Jinxians are short and stocky from growing up on a world with gravity much higher than on Earth. The same planet of Jinx gives us the "bandersnatchi", one of Niven's most interesting alien race, who are not only massively mascular from the gravity, but have been genetically engineered to have chromosomes much larg
      • Reflexes, too, if you follow one of the character premises in Gordon Dickson's "Hour of the Horde". The chief of a local band of losers came from a high-gravity planet. He wasn't particularly massive, but he was fast. The idea was that if you fell down on such a planet, you'd better have uber reflexes or you'd break bones in the fall.
        • Re:No news... (Score:4, Informative)

          by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:55PM (#15673140)
          he idea was that if you fell down on such a planet, you'd better have uber reflexes or you'd break bones in the fall.

          The ultimate high-g planet is the super-jovian Mesklin, in Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity. At the poles it was about 600g. The natives were centipede-like, obviously very strong and fast, but they had no clear idea of "falling". If you dropped something, it disappeared and reappeared on the ground, smashed or squashed flat. More extreme, the astronomer Frank Drake imagined life on a neutron star, based on nuclear reactions rather than chemical, microscopic and extremely fast. Robert Forward did a couple of novels using that idea.

      • Re:No news... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bsartist ( 550317 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:08PM (#15672913) Homepage
        Speaking of Larry Niven - he wrote about the difficulties Superman and Lois Lane would have in an essay called Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex [rawbw.com].
        • Well, Superman Returns proves Larry Niven is wrong.

          His entire argument hinges on the assumption that the Kryptonian nervous system behaves just like the human immune system. Since Superman can see things and react in bullet-time or faster and he can sort out millions of audio signals independently, neither of which a human can do, Niven makes an irrecoverable mistake in his essay. In fact the speed of reaction Superman exhibits is faster than our neurotransmitters can even signal, so Kryptonian neurophysi
      • Alan Moore's Tom Strong character was raised in a high-gravity environment.
  • by Nybarius ( 799156 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:49PM (#15672824)
    see the book "The Physics of Superheroes" [amazon.com]. It's about exactly what you would expect.
    • In addition (Score:3, Informative)

      by phorm ( 591458 )
      I picked up the book "The Science of Superman" some time ago. Not a bad read, and it goes into the details of how Superman's powers might stem from the differential in intensity of the earth/krypton sun, gravity, etc.
      • Re:In addition (Score:3, Informative)

        the book "The Science of Superman" some time ago. Not a bad read, and it goes into the details of how Superman's powers might stem from the differential in intensity of the earth/krypton sun, gravity, etc.

        I don't know that book, but I know my superheroes.
        Did the book mention that originally, Supes was from the planet Krypton, where the gravity is 10 times that of earth, and therefore he was super strong and could jump really high, and super tough?

        As the years went by, he had more and more powers added to hi
  • by groslyunderpaid ( 950152 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:50PM (#15672828)
    You could only get so much bigger (bones, muscle, etc) before it wasn't an advantage anymore, right? I mean, growing something in higher gravity so that it creates a stronger 'infrastructure' (for lack of a better term) would only be beneficial up to a certain point, at which point the weight of said 'infrastructure' would weight you down so as to defeat the purpose....
  • My grandma used to kill chickens by twirling them over her head to break the necks, then throwing them down. Like to see her try that with a "superchicken"!
    Can't you just see it? Hank comes outside to find his wife, and there the is, cornered in the hen house. "Look out Hank! That one by the door knows judo or something!"
  • About Flying (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:51PM (#15672830) Homepage

    That chicken thing is just weird. That must have been a while ago, I don't see how anyone could get the ethical approval to do something like that. Just how would you keep the chickens in for months at a time anyway? How would you feed them and such? Do you stop the thing for a moment, do what you need, then start it back up?

    That said, the article comments on Superman flying. I read somewhere recently (some list of facts about Superman) some interesting stuff. One of the things was that "Faster than a speeding bullet... more powerful than a locomotive..." stuff was not part of the original Superman comics, it was apparently made up for a radio show. But more interesting to me, apparently Superman COULDN'T fly. He was able to jump REALLY HIGH. You know, "able leap tall buildings in a single bound." At some point that somehow turned into flying (this was a bulleted list of facts type thing, so it didn't expand on these).

    There was a special on TLC, Discovery, Science Channel, or some such recently about the physics of Superman. I didn't see it (I'm sure it will be re-run), but I remember from a commercial that they said it would actually be MORE PAINFUL for Lois to be caught by Superman than to simply fall to her death. I don't know why, you'd have to watch to find out I guess.

    • Re:About Flying (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ampathee ( 682788 )
      it would actually be MORE PAINFUL for Lois to be caught by Superman than to simply fall to her death. I don't know why,


      I'd imagine that he flies upwards really fast, while she falls down at her terminal velocity. Then he catches her - with double or more the impact of her hitting the (stationary) ground - since the relative velocity would be so much larger.

      Like hitting an oncoming car as opposed to a parked one.
      • Re:About Flying (Score:2, Interesting)

        by samu0086 ( 977811 )
        Ampathee is exactly correct. The physicist in the show suggested that while Lois would travel at her terminal velocity downward, Superman would be flying at an extreme velocity in the opposite direction. He guessed that Superman would be flying at ~100x faster than Lois would be falling down, or 120,000 mph in order to grab her (since he had to run to a spot, change clothes into Superman, and fly to grab her all the while Lois is falling at 9.8 m/s^2). It would be awesome to see Superman accidentally slice
    • by kc32 ( 879357 )
      I would assume it's because she's still alive to feel it rather than being killed instantly.
    • Another must-read on the physics of superheroes is Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex". Unless you're heavily humour-impared though, please don't read it while dining on a bowl of soup.
    • In the movies, it's well established that when you fly with Supes, he shares his negation of Kepler's and Newton's universe with anything he touches. Remember Lois flying fingertip-a-fingertip with him? When he lifts an entire landmass in Superman Returns, he HAS to cancel gravity for the entire mass, at least to a point, otherwise he'd just bore a hole through it when he pushes up. When he catches Lois, he simply cancels her motion with no deceleration. How? I dunno, he's from a planet with powers and abil
    • by Bombula ( 670389 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @04:39AM (#15673876)
      Whenever you hear one of these physics of Superman debates where they ask MIT physicists or whatever, the assumption is always that Superman has his abilities because he has a super version of a human body. So he's super strong and super fast because his muscles are super powerful, and so on. But if this is the case and he's constrained by the ordinary laws of physics, then everything about him from strength to flight to x-ray vision is totally implausible.

      However, if you escape from the assumption that he's some fancy biological being, then things change completely. In my mind, Superman is a being composed of energy. His appearance is just a convenient form, a shell. Kryptonian technology seems to be advanced enough for this to be plausible, and it also rids us of the unlikely coincidence that Kryptonians and humans happen to look exactly the same.

      Composed of energy and manipulating forces, all of Superman's powers become plausible - as energy, flight makes sense, speed makes sense, and strength could be the transmutation of energy into forces. With Kryptonian technology, it might be possible to create force fields of two dimensions (planes, or surfaces) or three dimensions (volumes, or zones), which you could also view as curving space. Then things like lifting a car by its bumper would make sense, whereas with human phyics you'd just rip the bumper of. And as for lifting continents, if the force required to lift a continent was applied to an area the size of your hand it would pass through any known substance as easily as we pass through air. Strength-by-force-field is the only thing that makes any sense.

      Kryptonite also makes more sense with Superman as an energy being. Maybe it gives off some weird particles that interfer with Superman's ability to transmute energy into gravitons or other force particles. Superman being solar-powered makes better sense this way too. And obviously heat vision, x-ray vision, and flying at cose to the speed of light make more sense for an energy being than for a material being.

      Well, that's my uberdorkiness binge for the day.

  • by jcostantino ( 585892 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:53PM (#15672839) Homepage
    Super Grover unavailable for comment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:55PM (#15672851)
    Apparently they tasted just like Christopher Reeve.
  • But do they taste super?
  • That's Tom Strong [wikipedia.org].
  • So when they turned the centrifuge off and took the chickens out were they able to walk straight or did they resemble a drunken person trying to walk like the guy in the following video http://www.videotiger.com/funnydrunkmanvideo.shtml [videotiger.com]? I hope they recorded when they took the chickens out and will sometime post it on the internet!
  • So, did the superchickens have more dark meat on them, or light? Parts that get exercised (thighs) are darker than parts that don't (breast on a non-flying chicken). I can see this at Wegman's now, "boneless thighs from free-range, hormone-free, pre-centrifuged, SuperChickens".
  • by gooman ( 709147 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:11PM (#15672932) Journal
    When you find yourself in danger,

    When you're threatened by a stranger,

    When it looks like you will take a lickin',

    There is someone waiting,

    Who will hurry up and rescue you,

    just Call for Super Chicken!

    Fred, if you're afraid you'll have to overlook it,

    Besides you knew the job was dangerous when you took it

    He will drink his super sauce

    And throw the bad guys for a loss

    And he will bring them in alive and kickin'

    There is one thing you should learn

    When there is no one else to turn to

    Call for Super Chicken!

  • Yea yea... (Score:2, Funny)

    by MrNaz ( 730548 ) *
    *mumbles something about welcoming centrifuge raised chicken overlords*
  • by hierro ( 809232 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:16PM (#15672953)
    Everytime you mod me down, a scientist centrifuges a chicken.


    Please, think of chickens.
  • I don't know if Discovery Channel in the States has it right now, but two weeks ago Discovery Channel Canada had a documentary called The Science of Superman and went through the details on how the powers from the man of steel actually worked. Most of them were plausible, namely the super strengh as well as the cold-breath. It was really interresting how his powers could be explained through physics. The fact that Krypton was super dense really made scientific sense for Duperman's powers when he got to eart
  • Though never shown, I figured Superman would just flap his feet very rapidly to generate thrust, like any of us swimming, but far more powerful.

    That's how I do it, anyway. Up, up and away!
  • If, having grown up here on Earth, you travel to a place with lower gravity (like Moon), you will be a superman.

    Other example exist too — some athletes excercise at high altitudes to adjust their bodies to lower oxygen levels. When they then compete at (just above) sea level, they have an advantage.

  • I don't feel like dredging my memory for the proper physics formulas, so maybe some bored physics student can help me out. Let's say I wanted to live in 2x gravity on Earth for a few months (or years), for the healthful aspects.

    So I build a huge centrifuge shaped like a bowl, with a track at a certain angle. You'd like to spin the track at a speed and angle such that I get a simulated 2x gravity, while having the angle such that my weight would be perpendicular to the apparent floor. You'd build walls perpendicular to the track (and a parallel ceiling) as well so that things would seem normal.

    So how wide would the track need to be, and what angle would you need, so as to have an approximately normal environment? Obviously if the ring is too small, you'll get different forces on each part of your body and you'll notice it. There's probably no good psychological data on what size you "need", so let's see some numbers at different sizes, and see what would seem reasonable.

    Also, is there any problem with this scenerio? I've never heard of it being done, which means maybe there's something I'm missing as far as practicality.

    • The problems are,

      accleration gradient - you don't want very much of one or your balance will be all screwy.
      coriolis "force" - a result of the transformation to a rotating reference frame. You want to minimize this as well, for balance reasons.

      Fortunately the solution to both is to increase R. Unfortunately, this limits where you can place your rotating habitat and increase the cost to power it.

      So some practical numbers: (i'm not sure how to do the coriolis part, but the rest is pretty easy)

      Suppose we to
  • Feedback anyone? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MasterC ( 70492 ) <cmlburnett@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:30PM (#15673042) Homepage
    I assume by virtue of inclusion that the bit about growing chickens in higher gravity yields stronger muslces and bigger bones is of some surprise. Why would you not think biology has feedback [wikipedia.org]? I know we humans like to pride outselves on things we invent but mother nature has been at it for many more years.

    Your respiratory rate is determined by the level of carbon dioxide present in your blood (not oxygen). Feedback.

    Your heart rate has a normal rate but can be altered by hormones like adrenaline (fight-or-flight response [wikipedia.org]). Feedback....in a more long-about sort of way.

    Blood glucose levels plays a part in hunger which leads to eating which restores glucose. Feedback.

    Immobility or lack of exercise can lead to atrophy [wikipedia.org] of the muscles but can be restored by using them. Feedback.

    Astronauts have to exercise in microgravity to also prevent atrophy. Feedback.

    So if a chicken grows up in high gravity then why shouldn't it have higher muscle strength and bigger bones.

    Nevermind the bulk of the /. summary is about the chicken when the chicken part is only at the end of the article, but thought I'd point it out. It seemed rather shocking to eieken to warrant dominating the summary about the chicken.
  • by David_Shultz ( 750615 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:39PM (#15673072)
    For anyone interested in the development of Supermans powers as the series progressed, check out this website:

    http://www.johnath.com/~david/etc/superman.html [johnath.com]

    As other posters have mentioned, yes, it is true that he started without flying ability -he could leap only one eighth of a mile. The development of his powers is actually quite staggering, going from what nowadays would be a lesser superhero, to being one of the most powerful superheroes in the combined comic book multiverse.

  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:41PM (#15673079) Journal
    I've heard rumors to the effect that if you attack them with a sword repeatedly, it will send a call out to dozens of other superchickens which will all attack you until you flee indoors or scroll to the next area.
  • time travel (Score:4, Insightful)

    by llZENll ( 545605 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:00AM (#15673155)
    "If he was gone two hours (flying at the speed of light), by the time he returned the world would be over."

    Wouldn't he return in 2 hours?
    • Re:time travel (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zygamorph ( 917923 )

      They're alluding to the time dilation effect in general and/or special relativity.

      Basically if you are travelling close to the speed of light relative to some other point ( say earth), then time slows down for you relative to the time flow at the other point. The effect is:

      sqrt( 1- ((v**2) / (c**2)))

      Where v is your velocity and c is the speed of light. So if you get really close to the speed of light time slows down for you a lot.

      I'm assuming that when they say comes back in two hours they mean

  • by IanDanforth ( 753892 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:26AM (#15673253)
    The attempt has been made to put humans in this kind of plus G environment. People loose so much bone mass during space flight the idea was to build as much bone as possible before leaving earth and then let people fall back to normal.

    Unfortunately our sense of balance is directly tied into G, specifically the acceleration of liquids in one G. When you're in a high G environment your inner ear believes that a small turn of the head is an increadibly rapid and vicious turn. What results is increadible nausea and an inability to function, and since it takes months at high G to build bone this idea is limited in its applications. While people are able to adapt relatively quickly to freefall this is not so easy with Hyper-G.

    -Ian
  • by ObligatoryUserName ( 126027 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:31AM (#15673266) Journal
    It seems to be a common misconception that superheroes are science fiction. Like Star Wars, they're Science Fiction Flavored, but they aren't really stories about science.

    It can be a fun framework for discusion, but (stating the obvious here) realism is no more important to these stories than it is to Harry Potter or King Arthur.

    Talking about realism is more relevant when the story is science fiction instead of fantasy dressed up like science fiction.

    While I enjoy fantasy stories, it seems unfortunate they have eclipsed science fiction by appropriating the settings and conventions.
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:43AM (#15673306)
    If you want to read more details, use the "Inside Book" search on Amazon within the Great Mambo Chicken [amazon.com].

    From the search results link above, visit pages 54 and 55 - the sidebars navigate to the next and previous pages.

    No I have no affilate link in there (that I am aware of) - call me crazy.
  • by 0WaitState ( 231806 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:54AM (#15673341)
    No discussion of the Physics of Superman is complete without this analysis of why Superman can't have sex. [rawbw.com]
  • ObNiven (Score:3, Insightful)

    by trawg ( 308495 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:57AM (#15673355) Homepage
    The obligatory reference to Larry Niven's classic "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" in which he describes some of the problems involved in a Kryptonian/Human relationship:

    http://www.rawbw.com/~svw/superman.html [rawbw.com] (first Google link)
  • by SonOfFlubber ( 14544 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @02:28AM (#15673609)
    When I was an undergrad taking lower division Newtonian Physics my prof assigned a problem set along the lines of:

    "Superman: the man of steel. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound:
    1) Calculate Superman's kinetic energy to go faster than the bullet
    2) Determine the amount of work Superman would do pushing against the locomotive to make it go backwards 1 km on a level track
    3) Compute the impulse generated by Superman to leap a tall building

    Most of the class did OK, I got all the answers in the ballpark, but one student had answers that were an order of magnitude greater than anybody elses'. When the prof asked the student why his answers were so high, he replied "Well, it seems as if I used a higher mass than anybody else - you DID say that Superman was the man of steel, didn't you?"

    He got full credit.
  • by Soong ( 7225 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @03:25AM (#15673713) Homepage Journal
    They started training at 10 times earth gravity, and were well up over a hundred in just a couple villain intermissions worth of training.

    So yeah, train hard, get strong. (as long as you don't break yourself in the process)

    Maybe the interesting thing here is not that the chickens got stronger, but that 2g was within their biological limits.
  • by GoRK ( 10018 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @10:13AM (#15675037) Homepage Journal
    Since nobody seems to have answered the original question of "Why aren't we trying this with humans?" -- The answer is that "We are. And it doesn't work that well."

    If you search for "NASA Hypergravity" on Google, you will find all kinds of data about the experiments, all kinds of crackpots talking about becoming super-strong or the like and this interesting Wired article [wired.com] written by one of the participants. If you don't want to dig too deep, check out the article. It's a pretty good summary from the inside out.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN

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