UVic neurobiologist explains the science of superheroes
Having the power, agility and speed of the world’s greatest superheroes may seem like it can only happen in comic books, but according to neurobiologist E. Paul Zehr, it is possible.
“Neither Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark is endowed with any special gifts,” he says. It’s through dedicated training and technology that they are able to exhibit the superhuman abilities of Batman and Iron Man respectively.
“My day job is the study of the neural control of human movement, but for the past three decades, I have also trained in martial arts,” says Dr. Zehr.
“I first became interested in kinesiology and neuroscience because I marveled (and still do) at how crazily complicated it must be for the body to do all the things it can do,” he says.
Dr. Zehr’s innovative work as professor and head of the Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Victoria has focused on the recovery of walking after stroke and spinal cord injury, but he has found that extremely high-level performance, such as training to become Batman and rehabilitation to improve walking, are just different points on a continuum of performance.
Learn more about Dr. Zehr’s research during his talk, “Is there a superhero in you?” on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 3:30 p.m. at the lecture theatre at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus. The event is part of the Science and Society Speaker series and the Vernon Winter Carnival of Superheroes.
Specifically, Dr. Zehr will use Batman and Iron Man to explore neuro-scientific concepts such as brain adaptations to skill training and motor learning; the biomechanics of martial arts training and combat; pathophysiology of concussion; neural plasticity associated with injury and training; brain remapping and phantom limbs; and the concepts of neuroprosthetics and brain-machine interfaces.
Dr. Zehr is passionate about the popularization of science using superheroes as foils for human achievement and ability. An accomplished author, his recent pop-sci books include Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero (2008) and Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine (2011). ECW Press is publishing Dr. Zehr’s latest book, Project Batgirl: The Diary of a Teen Superhero, later this year.
He is a regular speaker at conferences and comic book conventions including San-Diego International Comic Con and has presented to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on the science of superheroes. Dr. Zehr has been featured on radio and television interviews around the world including NPR, CNN, CBC and CTV, and his articles and interviews on exercise, science and superheroes have appeared in Scientific American, Men’s Health and Maclean’s among others.
The Science in Society Speaker Series is a joint project by the Okanagan Science Centre and Okanagan College and is sponsored by the Pacific Inn and Suites, Cooper’s Foods, Starbucks Coffee Company, and the Vernon Morning Star.
Admission is $7 in advance or $10 at the door. For advanced tickets, call the Okanagan Science Centre at 250-545-3644 or visit www.okscience.ca.
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