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Adv Physiol Educ. 2018 Dec 1;42(4):529-540. doi: 10.1152/advan.00107.2018.

The physiology of impenetrable skin: Colossus of the X-Men.

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Intensified Reaction and Separation Systems, Department of Process and Energy, Delft University of Technology , Delft , The Netherlands.


The X-Men are an ensemble of superheroes whose powers are associated with the X-Gene, a mutant genetic factor. The powers exhibited by each character differ and are dependent on how the X-Gene has modified their individual genomes. For instance, Wolverine possesses regenerative healing, Storm can control local weather systems, and Colossus can create an impenetrable "organic steel" layer around his body. Thanks to the establishment of the superhero genre in modern cinema, audiences are familiar with Colossus from films such as X-Men: Days of Future Past and Deadpool. While attaining this power might be attractive to many people, there are innumerate scientific obstacles to be overcome to replicate this "organic steel" layer. Due to its unique combination of high strength and flexibility, a graphene-based layer might be a more realistic material for Colossus' impenetrable skin and would also address a number of physiological issues associated with an "organic steel" layer. The actualization of this layer would depend on complex processes associated with protein folding, protein self-assembly, and changing the structure of his skin. In the classroom, Colossus can foster a multidisciplinary learning environment where concepts in physiology can overlap with topics in physics, engineering, and materials science. Just like other superheroes, Colossus can also be used to promote scientific content in outreach for the general public.


education; protein self-assembly; skin; superheroes; thermoregulation

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