Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Science of Heroes: The Real-Life Possibilities Behind the Hit TV Show.

by Yvonne Carts-Powell.

“Where does it come from—this quest, this need to solve life's mysteries when the simplest of questions can never be answered?”

With Mohinder Suresh’s probing question, the hit science-fiction show Heroes was launched in 2006. At times offbeat and dark, we were rapidly hooked into the story of normal people discovering they possess extraordinary talents and how they would change the world. Yvonne Carts-Powell’s first book explores the science and plausibility behind these superpowers.

Ms. Carts-Powell utilizes Heroes to present accessible and easy to read morsels of the complex research at the cutting-edge of diverse subjects ranging from physics to neurobiology to stem cell research. Introducing the mechanics of science (for non-practitioners) she then explains the genetic probability of evolving a superpower before diving into our favorite characters. Subsequent chapters are centered around a pivotal character in order to explore the field or key concepts underlying the plausibility of their ability – Hiro’s space and time travel introduces the physics of time; Claire’s cellular regeneration showed us just how much we know about immunology and stem cells; while Claude’s invisibility might be more plausible than most of us realize. There are also creative explanations for improbable abilities such as Nathan’s ability to fly. More than a simple summary of science, historical anecdotes and wacky analogies from cuttlefish to ‘assume an orbital Wyle E. Coyote’ abound. Ms. Carts-Powell ultimately challenges us to consider the nature of a hero and how we use the abilities each of us possess.

Aimed squarely at the non-scientist, this concise text provides the kind of background one might wish more of the general public possessed. Surprisingly, it also challenged me, a biomedical researcher, to think about some of the wider implications of my own research. You don’t have to be a fan of the series to enjoy this book. However, by explaining the underlying reality to one of the most culturally relevant science fiction series in decades, Ms. Carts-Powell is introducing a new generation to the power of science and how quickly we are catching-up with the avant-garde ideas of Victorian writers and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.

Next up: I've opted to start a trilogy and unwind in the evenings from some rather daunting challenges (its easier to sleep if you are dreaming of stories rather than reliving your day me thinks). As such, I offer Philip Pullman's Northern Lights for your consideration.