Audio

Kapow! Superpowers in science and nature

Superpowers are everywhere in the realm of comic-book fantasy, but CBC Radio One science columnist Torah Kachur explores how these abilities are already present in nature and science.

Super strength, speed and underwater breathing explored

Superman, featured on the cover of Action Comics No. 1, demonstrates the same kind of super strength as a rhinoceros beetle, which can carry up to 850 times its own body weight. (Associated Press and Reuters)

Superpowers are everywhere in the realm of comic-book fantasy. In CBC Radio science columnist Torah Kachur's world, though, logic and earthly physics rule.

Even so, many of Earth's creatures already have pretty amazing abilities.

In a special two-part program, Kapow!, Kachur tells us about rhinoceros beetles that can carry 850 times their own body weight, floodwater mosquitoes that can create force-field bubbles called plastrons to let them breathe underwater, and about a gecko expert studying adhesives to figure out how humans can someday stick to walls just like Spider-Man.

Kachur also muses about her own ability to become superhuman and learns more about the amount of calories it would take to run at speeds like the Flash.

Although some feats will always remain fantasy, attempts to push human limits have led to serious scientific breakthroughs that have real-world applications for submarines, industrial robots, medicine and nanotechnology.

Listen to the full program by clicking the two embedded audio players on the left.

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