Superheroes of Science: A Retrospective Translational Inspiration into Action Figures

January 20, 2013/0/0
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Superheroes have always permeated into the lives of children with their charismatic personalities, amazing super powers, and pure awesomeness. What started as a historical catalyst of inspiration for generations of people has quickly turned into an integrated facet in our American culture. As we examine superheroes in this context of the American culture, some examples that we discover are that of Captain America as an iconic hero during World War II, Superman as a symbol of hope to society during the Great Depression, and the X-Men represented as Generation X and the minority cultures existing within our country during the X-Men’s beginnings in the 1960s. It is no doubt that it is during those difficult periods in our society that we as human beings seek to find a hero in our lives – a hero who portrays the integrity of our beliefs, inspiration, and dreams. Whether it be literal heroes (e.g. government leaders, physicians, athletes) or figurative heroes (e.g. Superman, Captain America, Iron Man), we are always searching for truth and answers to our problems and questions.

I was recently referred to the art of Mr. Russell Gawthorpe, who’s inspiring art titled “Heroes of Science Action Figures” may have won your attention through the swift pace of the internet. (His deviantART profile page can be accessed at with his popular piece of art at This was a radical view that I had not been exposed to – meditating on the concept of our pioneers of science as being our literal, real-life heroes. As a self-proclaimed student of science, for some reason it is easy to forget that before me were men and women who investigated science and allowed me to study the advancements of science that we all experience every day. Furthermore, as an avid purchaser of action figures during my childhood, conceptually thinking about being able to play with our “heroes of science” as action figures sheds light into a peculiar perspective. We usually think about our action figures as embodying the iconic image of someone who is “out of this world”; however, these “heroes of science” were not only brilliant in their own ways, but also brought the world closer to us. Our “heroes of science” set sail to colonize the far reaches of unknown knowledge and contributed greatly to the progress of our human race. I don’t have to tell you about amazing scientists such as Max Planck, Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla, and more, when the majority of the time their last names are equally synonymous and immortalized in concepts such as a unit of measurement, device, or constant. These phenomenal people were scientists who not only contributed to knowledge and change, but who also inspired the next generation of scientists and investigators of the world. When you think about heroes in medicine, one of the first names that are usually thought of is a man named Sir William Osler, one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital who also served as their first Professor of Medicine. His impact is still being felt for generations after him not only revolutionizing modern medicine, but also medical education. In our modern age (especially if you’re going into orthopedics or updated with sports news), Dr. James Andrews may be a hero for many future and current orthopedic surgeons as well as sports enthusiasts.

In all things, heroes are necessary for human progress, both as a whole and for individuals. As a whole, we have seen how superheroes have struggled through similar and mimicked problems faced in real life, and their stories of being able to overcome them embodied our inspiration. Many of the superheroes that we have encountered were created in this context of our nation’s history, and have now become a mainstay of our culture. As individuals, heroes exist to set limits and goals for us personally. We strive to reach the competency of our heroes and to surpass them, and in essence, we pick up from where our heroes left off.



Image: Courtesy of Russell Gawthorpe