Superpowers, Diagnosed

Illustrations by Michele McCammon

Let’s say you’re a dashing millionaire with a masked-vigilante secret identity and you’ve compiled a supernerdy dossier of your most powerful friends and enemies. You’d probably turn to someone like Stanford hospitalist Errol Ozdalga to help you explain to the public what makes your counterparts tick—as Batman (or, at least, his ordinary-human publisher) did to help promote the superhero’s recent book, Anatomy of a Metahuman. Ozdalga, who revealed the results of his physical exams on YouTube, breaks down some superpowers for STANFORD.

Illustration of an eye with a planet pupil.

Superspy sight

Superman, who can see what’s happening on distant planets, probably has way more cones in the back of his eye than the average human, says Ozdalga. Plus, he can probably extend the shape of his eyeball so that the light hits farther back, allowing him to focus on something really far away.

Tough stuff

Doomsday is invincible, probably because he’s got a hard outer layer with a super amount of keratin, the protein that makes up your skin, hair and nails. Doomsday’s shell probably also contains chitin, a structural polymer found in the exoskeleton of the aptly named ironclad beetle.

Illustration of a small robot working on blood cells.

Technopathy

You’d never need to program your Roomba again if you had AI-powered nanobots coursing through your veins, like the Justice League’s Cyborg. “These nanites connect with Cyborg’s cells, and not only are they functioning to improve his body at the molecular level, they’re learning at the same time,” says Ozdalga.

Illustration of a bullfrog sitting.

Aquatic breathing 

While air is 21 percent oxygen, water is only 1 percent. Lungs, unlike, say, the gills of a fish, can’t process enough water to oxygenate Aquaman. Most likely, says Ozdalga, the king of Atlantis exchanges oxygen through his skin, like a bullfrog. 

Illustration of a man flexing his bicep.

’Roid range

Supervillain Bane owes his superior strength and focus to injections of venom, which Ozdalga says is probably a combination of anabolic steroids and the stimulant Ritalin. (Don’t try this at home.)

Illustration of a pair of legs running fast.

Supersonic speed

Whether you’re a sprinter or a marathoner depends on how many fast-twitch vs. slow-twitch muscle fibers you have. Speedy heroes like Superman? More fast-twitch—“like, a hundred times more,” Ozdalga says. And, you guessed it: Those fibers enable him to leap tall buildings in a single bound.


Charity Ferreira is a contributing editor at Stanford.