I was catching up with some comics recently and finally got a chance to read Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil #1 (Marvel Comics). There’s a lot that can be talked about with Daredevil on a science website, and Waid – a physics minor in college, if I’m not mistaken – knows his science inside and out, so I’m looking forward to a great run on the series.
And by page 2, I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed.
A quick set-up – Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil is in San Francisco going over evidence in a missing child case as a favor for a friend. Murdock, of course, is blind with superhumanly hyper-acute senses as well as a “radar sense” that allows him a successful career as the costumed crime fighter Daredevil.
When we see Murdock, he’s going over the evidence in a darkened room – the fluorescent bulbs were, he said, too noisy – and is explaining to the crime scene technicians that the rag doll with no fingerprints on it is, regardless, a “bouquet of odors pointing to where they’re hiding the girl.” He starts rattling off names of smells in the next panel and halfway through says, “Brick dust, no —- talcum powder. Stale as hell. Weird.”
Most readers would read that and just keep flying along, but that you’re here means you’re not like most readers are you?
So – a couple of things that jump at me in these first couple of pages that deal with science. First off a connection to recent science – Murdock cataloguing the smells. Far fetched? Well, his level of detail, probably, but last month’s Science included an article by C. Bushdid et al entitled “Humans Can Discriminate More than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli.” One. Trillion.
Previously, the number tossed around was 10,000. A trillion has eight more zeroes. That’s a lot more. A lot.
To get to a trillion, well, they didn’t test a trillion smells. The researchers mixed together combinations of 128 different odors and then placed three in front of subjects – two of the same smell and one that was different and asked which was different. The results allowed the researchers to calculate how many combinations from the 128 could exist and be distinguishable. The answer? More than a trillion.
By the way, that means we can distinguish more smells than we can differentiate between stimuli from our other senses.
So – in a case of art imitating science, we’ve got Matt Murdock in Daredevil #1 claiming something is brick, and then, no – stale talcum powder. Er, DD? A little confused?
Nope – not at all. Talc (from the Greek “talq” meaning “pure”) and is hydrated magnesium silicate (H2Mg3(SiO3)4). Pulverized, it’s found in talcum powers – it’s fluffy and soft. In fact, talc is the softest known mineral on the Mohs hardness scale. You can scratch it with your fingernail and in preparation for handling, it’s fairly easily cut with knives. Soapstone, or steatite is a type of talc, talc-schist and can be either mined or made by pulverizing talc along with a few other steps.
So what do you do with that steatite? Well, you can take some crushed steatite bonded by sodium silicate and make bricks for one. Specialized bricks that are used in furnaces and in other applications.
So yeah – throwaway line about bricks and talc…how could Matt Murdock, Daredevil, get the two confused? Simple – he was smelling the hydrated magnesium silicate. Don’t ask me what it smells like. I can only differentiate between a trillion…although I figure stale talc smells something like “grandpa.”
But…yeah – that a nod was given to chemistry in the first two pages of Daredevil #1? A tip of the hat to Waid and Samnee.
And don’t even get us started about the “tiniest degree of heat” and “I sense a minute level of residual radioactivity coming from this piece of paper,” and the use of an elevator as a passable/rough Faraday cage in time of need. This book, in one issue, is proving a science geek’s dream (even though we might call “Huh?” on Murdock claiming he can sometimes feel radio waves…we just don’t have the receptors).
So – for a medium which can sometimes give science the short end of the stick, Daredevil is off to a great, sciencey start.