Thursday, April 07, 2016

Nano-powered Superheroes Take On Crime & Cancer

“Spider-Man, Thor, the Hulk, the X-Men. . . Okay, so I’ve created a whole caboodle of superheroes. But the important thing is, now it’s your turn.” —Stan Lee

A still from a promotional contest video by Stan Lee.
Image Credit: National Science Foundation
When Stan Lee throws down a superhero challenge, people listen. Last fall, the legendary comic book icon challenged high school students to create a superhero equipped with nanotechnology-inspired gear for a contest sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Entries came in from all across the United States. You can cast your vote for one of eleven semifinalists competing for the People’s Choice Award through April 15.

All of the semifinalists are in the running for the People’s Choice Award, but top honors will go to one of these three villain-fighting finalists.

Finalists Nanoman (Credit: Eric Liu), Nine (Credit: Vuong Mai), and Radio Blitz (Credit: Madeleine Chang). High resolution versions are available here.
Nanoman by Eric Liu from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (VA)

Created by a medical researcher, the microscopic superhero Nanoman battles Cancer, the villainous crab. His greatest tool? Super-sensitive tracking nanosensors that takes him straight to the target so he can deliver precision attacks. 

Nine by Vuong Mai from Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts (GA)

Aided by a technologically advanced nanosuit that can stop a bullet in its tracks, Nine rescues a little girl who has been kidnapped. His “smart” suit incorporates self-healing glass, color-changing textiles, and shock-absorbing polymers. 

Radio Blitz by Madeleine Chang from Bergen County Academies (NJ)

With a snap of her fingers, Radio Blitz destroys villains and frees the captured. Her power comes from her fashion choices—nanogenerators turn mechanical energy into electricity and power nanowires embedded in her skirt. Combined with a magnetron on the bow of her shirt, Radio Blitz is a dangerous enemy. 

If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you’ll know that we have a special affinity for science-inspired superheroes. Spectra, a middle schooler with laser powers, made her comic book debut on PhysicsCentral in 2009. You can follow her adventures battling the evil Miss Alignment, General Relativity, the Quantum Mechanic, and other fitting villains online or purchase the comic books. And if you missed it, be sure to check out our adventures promoting Spectra at Comic-Con. We are thrilled to see Radio Blitz, Nine, and Nanoman join the ranks of science superheroes.

NSF and NNI designed the contest, Generation Nano: Small Science, to inspire students to explore nanotechnology and showcase their creativity. "Since these high school students were born, more discoveries have come from nanotechnology than any other field of science, with its discoveries penetrating all aspects of society," said Mihail C. Roco, senior advisor for science and engineering at NSF and key architect of NNI.

Lee is clearly enthusiastic about this mission. “This ‘small science’ is beginning to enable materials to take on ‘powers’ once only reserved for superheroes such as super protective armor, and materials that are waterproof, pressure resilient, even able to change color or to self-heal,” he told fans on his website.
Image Credit: National Science Foundation
Students from all across the United States brought superheroes to life for the contest through a written description and either a one-page comic or 90-second video. As finalists, Medeleine, Vuong, and Eric will display their creations April 16-17 at the 2016 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. A panel of experts will judge the submissions at the festival and award cash prizes from $500 to $1500. The People’s Choice Award winner will also be announced at the festival.  Vote for your favorite now!

—Kendra Redmond

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