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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 September 2007, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Coming soon... a super you
Spider-man

We may soon be able to scale vertical walls like Spider-man thanks to scientists. What other superhero characteristics are achievable for mere mortals?

It's the stuff of dreams, but a spider-man suit that allows the wearer to scale vertical walls could become a reality.

Italian scientists have worked out how the natural technology used by real spiders could allow a person to crawl up the side of a skyscraper or hang upside down from a roof.

Has science finally caught up with comic book, and what other superhero characteristics could humans soon have?

X-RAY VISION

A team of Scottish scientists say they are close to developing X-ray spectacles that will give the wearer "super-human" vision.

Superman
Superman has X-ray vision

So-called millimetre-wave scanners, which produce an image similar to an X-ray and can see through clothes have already been developed. But researchers at Glasgow University believe they could soon use this technology to produce X-ray goggles.

These would emit terahertz radiation - ultra-high frequency beams of light - which bounce off the object being viewed and return to the spectacles to create a detailed image on the inside of the lens.

The waves, which would be fired through engineered crystals to create three-dimensional pictures, pass straight through "flimsy" materials such as cloth, paper and plastics, but cannot penetrate dense material such as flesh or metal.

The scientists say the device could provide far more detailed images than conventional X-ray scanners and allow wearers to differentiate Semtex from modelling clay, for instance, or cocaine from sugar. This would make it a useful tool for policing, counter-terrorism and airport security.

INVISIBILITY

Ever since HG Wells wrote The Invisible Man, people have dreamt of disappearing. But no chemical can turn people transparent, and invisibility has always been considered impossible.

Invisible Man from the TV series
Not conspicuous at all
Now University of Tokyo scientists have invented a suit made with a special type of retro-reflective material, which acts as a photographic screen.

A camera on the suit takes a picture of what's behind the wearer and projects this onto the front of the suit. Anyone looking directly at the suit would see what is behind it.

With enough cameras positioned on the suit and with the material made of flexible monitors, a person wearing an advanced version of this suit would blend in totally with their environment.

The invisible car used in the James Bond movie, Die Another Day, uses an advanced version of this technology, says Robert Weinberg, author of The Science of Supervillains. The technology may also be useful for pilots, to make the floors of their cockpits appear transparent for landing.

LEVITATION

Step aside X-Man Magneto. Scientists have already managed to levitate frogs - could humans be next?

Wolverine
Wolverine, with his metal skeleton, is easy for Magneto to levitate
Most materials are diamagnetic, meaning they are repelled by either of the magnetic poles. Water is slightly diamagnetic, so it's also repelled by strong magnetic fields.

Since frogs are mostly water, scientists have found that if they use a strong enough magnetic field, they can levitate a frog without harming it in any way.

The human body is composed of about 70% water so the same principle could apply. The problem is generating the necessary magnetic field to do so - it would require the output of a nuclear power station, scientists say.

LIE-DETECTING LASSO

An early proponent of the lie-detection machine - or polygraph - was the psychologist William Marston, who is also credited with creating Wonder Woman. Probably explains why her kit includes a lie-detecting lasso.

Wonder Woman
Tell her no lies...
The machines rely on the fact that humans tend to have measurable physical changes when they lie, such as a higher heart rate and sweaty fingers.

Using electrodes around the body, the polygraph measures all of these physiological changes while the subject is being questioned.

When a person takes a lie-detector test, sensors are attached to their body. Signals from the sensors are recorded on a single strip of moving paper.

Just place those sensors in a lasso and the machine to print out the reading in a handy backpack, and away you go.


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