The superhero craze shows no sign of abating in Hollywood, but a research lab remains as likely a place as any to find unusual talents (after all, how many Marvel characters were created as a result of experiments?). Here, in the first of a two-part series, is TIR’s guide to the superheroes of the lab – science’s own Suicide Squad?
Works longer and harder than anyone else. Any time of day or night, any day of the week, they’re there in the lab plugging away at something. Whisper it, but their productivity isn’t significantly higher than anyone else’s – however, they set such an awe-inspiring example in terms of commitment that the boss always loves them.
Attributes: Superhuman work ethic, stamina, caffeine tolerance.
Weaknesses: High risk of burnout, no social life or extracurricular activities, and minimal sex life.
The reading/writing/arithmetic specialist. Seems to know everything about any topic under the sun, and always up to date on the latest science news and research findings. Usually provides proofreading and editing services to the rest of the group.
Attributes: Speed-reading, speed-writing, eye-popping general knowledge.
Weaknesses: Easily distracted, spends too much time on the computer, secretly addicted to the BBC News site.
McFly (the pioneer)
The one that’s always trying new assays, new techniques, and new reagents. Is so familiar with brand-new methods that no-one else in the group has heard of that they give the impression they’re from the future.
Attributes: No fear of the unknown, expert technical know-how.
Weaknesses: Spends so much time optimising stuff that they generate very little actual research data.
Crippled by promotion, and now incapable of benchwork and largely confined to the office. Claims to spend a lot of time on another astral plane consisting of pure scientific energy, and certainly prone to mysterious absences.
Attributes: Godlike reputation, mentally connected with other professors the world over.
Weaknesses: Paranoia about “competitors”, contact allergy with administration. Superpowers are lost in the presence of Deans.
The group’s resident clown and wellspring of good-feeling. Always cheery and in a good mood, has something to laugh about, and never fails to put a smile on people’s faces. Singlehandedly maintains group morale.
Attributes: Infectious laugh, inexhaustible supply of amusing anecdotes and jokes, immune to embarrassment.
Weaknesses: Hasn’t published a first-author paper in years (but is so valuable that nobody mentions it).
Machine guru who keeps all the departmental hardware running. Known as the Morse (or Open-Source) Whisperer for their ability to coax recalcitrant software back into harness, and unflustered by the toughest of assignments. Everyone’s terrified they might leave, at which point the entire infrastructure would collapse.
Attributes: Can speak to machines.
Weaknesses: Can’t speak to people.
Doesn’t come across as the sharpest knife in the box, but possessed of magic hands from which nothing but publication-quality data flow. An accidental genius at the bench, capable of mastering any technique or protocol almost instantaneously, and charmingly clueless as to how exceptional they are.
Attributes: Magic hands.
Weaknesses: No charisma.
Sorcerer, departmental administrator, and the source of real power in the unit. Capable of keeping umpteen different tasks and responsibilities levitating indefinitely, and the only person to which Professor Ecks defers. Commands automatic respect, and doesn’t take shit from anybody.
Attributes: Superhuman organisational skills, administrative telekinesis, financial alchemy.
Weaknesses: Cake, gossip.
The one who’s always happy to stand in for others, will provide assistance at the drop of a hat, and will drop everything to keep others’ experiments or cell lines running. They’ll have a coffee with you if you need to grouse about things, and are the only one who can be relied on to come out for a drink when you’re feeling depressed.
Attributes: Empathy, altruism, unbelievable team player.
Weaknesses: Easily exploited.
Are there any other lab superheroes you’ve spotted? Let TIR know if so.
Coming soon (the sequel!): supervillains of the lab