Sept. 26, 2012 --
Genetic mutations and advanced technology can give comic book characters super-human abilities. And the same holds true in real life. Sure, humans don't yet have the ability to shape-shift or walk through walls or, as is the case with Wolverine, heal in seconds from just about any injury. But there are a few other super powers that are within practical reach (and no shortage of people claiming to possess super powers). While you wait for "The Wolverine" to hit theaters, with a release date set for summer 2013, why not explore some examples of super human powers and abilities in the real world?
Courtesy of University of Utah Department of
Mindreading Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, has the ability to read minds. While no human has so far demonstrably proven this ability, we have developed technology that could read minds. This mind-reading device was developed by researchers at the University of Utah to help speechless patients form words. Words can be read directly from patients' minds by attaching microelectrode grids to the surface of the brain and learning which signals mean which words, a development that will ultimately help such patients talk again.
Magnetism He's no Magneto, but according to his father, Bogdan, a 7-year-old Serbian boy, has the ability to attract metal objects to him. In fact, his "magnetism" appears to extend to non-metal objects as well. Of course, Bogdan's magnetism hasn't yet been scientifically proven. In fact, it's most likely that he's just a little overweight and oils in his skin make him sticky.
Teleportation Azazel, one of the antagonists in "X-Men: First Class," has the ability to teleport himself and others from one place to another. In reality, we haven't come close to that level of transport ability. However, scientists have successfully teleported light and data over a stretch of 10 miles.
Flight Flying is certainly the ultimate superpower. But until a radioactive pigeon bites you, we'll all just have to rely on technology to get us airborne. Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy has taken solo flight to the extreme with his custom-designed wingsuit. Recently, Rossy even took his jetpack for a spin over the Grand Canyon. Reaching speeds of 190 miles per hour, this jetman could keep up with some of the fastest fictional fliers.
Muscle Mass You wouldn't want to see this dog when she gets angry. Wendy may look like a pitbull but is in fact a whippet with a rare genetic mutation that makes this dog more muscular. Although this dog is gifted with twice the muscle mass as average-sized whippets, Wendy has the same size heart, lungs and other organs.
Courtesy Raytheon Company
Iron Man OK, Tony Stark may be from a different franchise, but his Iron Man suit has become inspiration for military and tech manufacturers testing their own brands of exoskeleton suits. These real-life iron man suits have been designed for applications as mundane as climbing up a flight of stairs and as complex as protecting a soldier on a battlefield.
Echolocation Like the superhero Daredevil, Ben Underwood "sees" with his ears rather than his eyes by employing sonar. By emitting clicking noises with the back of his tongue, Kish is able to determine the distance and a rough outline of the shape of a nearby object. This allows him to navigate without the aid of a cane or seeing eye dog. Other blind people have also developed this ability, so this technique is not unique to Kish.
Soothsaying No one person can predict the future, but a recently developed software program used in Baltimore and Philadelphia is predicting which individuals on probation or parole are most likely to murder and to be murdered. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. are using or planning on using the program, and the software has already helped reduce the murder rate in some police districts.
The distinctive voices of radio broadcasters may be a result of their vocal cords being more elastic, say Australian researchers.
The suggestion follows a new study that found the vocal cords of such radio performers close faster than others.
The researchers filmed the vocal cords of 16 male radio announcers, broadcasters, newsreaders and voice-over artists using a high-speed video camera. They hoped to find out what made them sound different to non-broadcasters.
"There is an element of a radio voice that is incredibly distinctive but it's incredibly difficult to isolate and measure," said speech pathologist Dr Cate Madill, from the University of Sydney.
This quality is described in different ways in various studies, as warm, resonant, powerful, emotive, and authoritative.
Air from the lungs vibrates the vocal cords, which causes sound. This then travels through the vocal tract and out through the mouth, and to a lesser extent the nose.
The vocal tract has a particular shape and characteristics that interact with the sound to create 'resonance'. It's the resonance that gives the voice what we think of as depth, or warmth, or a 'ringing' quality.
"Some people say that to work in radio you need to be talented, or to have a voice that is fundamentally different from other voices," Madill said.
"We wanted to see if we could find any identifiable element of the anatomy of their actual vocal cords that might contribute to this phenomenon."
Filming vocal cords
The researchers placed the camera, which takes pictures at 4,000 frames per second, into the mouth to film the vocal cords as they vibrated.
"Vocal cords in men will vibrate anywhere between 100 and 120 times a second, so we need to take a lot of pictures to enable us to analyze the vibration pattern," said Madill.
The camera revealed that the closing phase of every broadcaster's vocal cords was faster than the opening phase, Madill and colleagues report in the journal PLOS ONE.
When they analyzed the video taken of 16 men who were not radio presenters, they found that the time that it took for their vocal cords to open and close was about equal.
The researchers used mathematical computer modeling to correct for elements such as loudness.
Madill inferred from the research that the vocal cords of radio presenters may have a little bit more elasticity, or that there was some manipulation of the tension in the vocal cords so that their recoil was maximized.
"However, these are just educated guesses," she said. "The vibration of the vocal cords probably makes a contribution to radio broadcasters having a warmth or depth, or an ability to maintain a particular tone whilst they move their pitch around though."
"Together with specific resonatory characteristics, it probably contributes to them being recognized as having a voice that is good for radio."
Whether someone could be trained to adjust the opening and closing speed of their vocal cords was unknown.
The researchers say female radio performers and controls were not included in the study due to limited recruitment of female radio performers and an insufficient sample size for statistical power.
Commercial versus public radio
The latest study follows on from two others by the same team. In the first they interviewed employers and educators in the radio industry an attempt to come up with a definition of what made a good radio voice.
The second study looked at the acoustic differences between radio broadcasters who worked for either public or commercial radio stations. It found that public broadcasters and non-broadcasters had voices that were slightly warmer and deeper than commercial broadcasters, who had a slightly brighter and possibly harsher resonant tone.
Madill suggests that these particular features are probably trainable.