There are two kinds of scientists in this world — those whose discoveries will lead the planet into a new era of enlightenment, and those whose research will inevitably be stolen by terrorists who enjoy dressing up as snakes. This article is dedicated to this second group, those whose groundbreaking findings will someday be appropriated by a cloned Nazi dictator in purple tights and transformed into a super-weapon aimed at a trussed-up Captain America’s crotch. Like …
#5. Freeze Rays
Why do supervillains love freeze rays? Easy. They allow you to trap your arch-nemesis in a solid block of ice and monologue away for hours, while your foe slowly dies of hypothermia and/or boredom. Sure, freezing things with lasers may sound weirdly impractical, but hey, so does training a dozen polar bears to guard your lair. Supervillainy is not about practicality, it’s about style. And it’s just about time to start practicing your ice puns, because science is absolutely on top of the “freezing things with lasers” situation.
By using lasers on high-pressure gas, German scientists were able to lower temperatures by 119 degrees in just seconds. The trick is that photons can knock electrons out of their orbits. When an atom loses electrons, it loses energy and, therefore, heat. The lasers are essentially blasting the warmth away at the atomic level. And it happens so fast they can freeze a gas before it has time to turn into a liquid.
We’re talking an instantaneous flash freeze that could lead to more efficient refrigeration devices, but obviously the real goal is for malefactors to lock entire panicked metropolises in blizzards of ice-cold criminality. You see, this isn’t some theoretical technique that can only be recreated in laboratory conditions. A research team in Berlin has used a similar process to create clouds over Germany’s capital city. That’s right, we’re talking laser weather control.
Suck it, Yuri!
By firing 220 millijoules of laser awesomeness into the atmosphere (while presumably laughing maniacally), scientists were able to create condensation out of thin air. By using the laser to knock electrons from atmospheric molecules, researchers created charged particles that could facilitate the formation of droplets.
This technique could be a quicker and more efficient way of creating localized showers than current cloud-seeding methods. All in all, this scheme seems way more feasible than kidnapping a bunch of ornithologists and forcing them to teach penguins how to pilot flying Zambonis.
#4. Tractor Beams
Star Wars and Star Trek generally don’t overlap technologies. For example, one has hyper speed, the other has warp speed. The Empire has proton torpedoes, the Federation has photon torpedoes. Star Wars has sexy blue chicks, Star Trek has sexy green chicks. Yes, there is a massive narrative gulf separating these two completely different, utterly dissimilar universes.
Except when it comes to tractor beams, that is. The one thing that any sci-fi space adventure cannot do without is a trusty beam that can grab an object and pull it like a lasso. And though everyone seems to have them, only the villains ever put them to good effect. It’s always, “Oh shit, we’re being pulling toward the Death Star/Borg Cube!” Indeed, nobody does tractor beams like the bad guys. So we should worry that NASA is developing three different types of laser tractor beams right now.
Science has known for a while now that light emits a subtle pressure and can push small particles around. Researchers have used lasers to maneuver microbes hither and yon. But that’s just not good enough for NASA.
No, they don’t just want to push things away with lasers. They want laser tractor beams, and right now they’re funding three different ideas: a pair of light tweezers, a spiraling vortex of laser waves (that acts like a photonic vacuum cleaner), and finally an exquisitely experimental “Bessel beam” tractor beam. In other words, NASA is just going to fire all kinds of different lasers at shit and see if something works.
For now, they’re just interested in pulling in small bits of crap to study. But once NASA manages to scale it up, no rebel scum will ever be able to mount any sort of futile resistance against Buzz Aldrin, who everyone in Washington knows is the Shadow King of the Sith Borg.
#3. Shockwave Generators
Any self-respecting evildoer eschews standard firearms for both himself and his minions. No, a truly sporting field weapon must be so unconventionally bad-ass that it will backfire and injure everybody within a 5-yard radius. This is why bad guys prefer death rays, exploding boomerangs, and vuvuzelas that shoot swarms of bees. Or, say, a comically huge gun that shoots invisible shockwaves that can knock down entire crowds at a time.
In real life, they call it the “Thunder Generator,” and it’s a (mostly) non-lethal Israeli weapon that sends out a series of loud, knock-you-on-your-ass shockwaves. We’re talking 60 to 100 per minute at a range of 50 meters, though tests show they can boost that distance up to 100 meters. It’s similar to a very loud speaker, only it feels like being in front of a firing squad.
The Thunder Generator is basically a small, rapid-fire vortex cannon, similar to the ones farmers (and the occasional auto manufacturer) fire into the atmosphere to try and disrupt hail storms. Science says that doesn’t work, of course — at those ranges, firing shock waves into the air doesn’t do anything except make loud noises. But if your target is close enough, a vortex cannon can do some damage. Here’s a video of one knocking over a stack of bricks.
“Eat that, High Middle Ages!”
The Thunder Generator was originally developed to scare birds away from crops and airports, but it has been modified to deal with human threats. And “non-lethal” is a loose descriptor here. The designers freely admit that, at 10 meters or less, the sonics will kill you deader than shit.
But rapid fire and non-lethal lethality aren’t the only things this baby comes equipped with. They can affix a curved barrel on these beauties to shoot around corners, too. Ha, those bastards won’t even know what’s coming. They’ll just be marching down the street when WHAM!, an invisible punch knocks them on their ass.
#2. Sonic Black Holes
Even at its most silent, our world is brimming with ambient burbles and murmurs. Now imagine the chaos that would unfold if one mad genius held all the sound in a major city hostage. Discotheques would shutter, Harley riders would cry tears of silent frustration, and stand-up comics everywhere would resort to miming and smashing watermelons with oversized mallets. Indeed, this is the dystopian reality Israeli scientists seem to be working toward with their sonic black hole.
Humans have made your standard, matter-gobbling black holes already, but those little bastards are difficult to manage. So to better understand these mysterious maelstroms of cosmic destruction, scientists decided to create a safer, more playful version.
“No, it’s safe. We put a sign on it, see?”
By chilling 100,000 rubidium atoms and using lasers to create a whirlpool effect, scientists were able to create a sonic black hole from which no sound can escape. It apparently works just like a regular black hole, but for noise. It absorbs bits of sound — or “phonons” — just as a black hole eats photons.
So what possible use could this be in the real world? Well so far, scientists have only maintained the effect for a few milliseconds, and they plan to use this auditory abomination to study real black holes. This is because they have no imagination. Though, if someone built a device that devours all sound and they planned to use it to blackmail the world’s richest teen pop idols, do you really think they’d admit it? Or even worse — what if some dastard purloined this technology and trained ninjas with black holes strapped to their backs? The mind reels at the possibility.
#1. Painless, Undetectable Laser Injection
The best way to assassinate someone is to make it look like it’s not an assassination at all. So good news, ninja of the future: The mad geniuses as MIT have created the hypospray from Star Trek. MIT’s device pushes a “near-supersonic dose of medication straight through your skin into your body.” The drugs are fired through the flesh on a blast of air smaller than the proboscis of a mosquito.
It’s painless, doesn’t leave a mark, and apparently you can unload this thing right into someone’s eyeball or eardrum without any ill effects. All you need to do is bump into someone and BOOM. Faster than you can dramatically announce, “Hail HYDRA,” rattlesnake venom is coursing into your victim’s bloodstream.
But with these types of devices, it can be hard to control the dosage and the potential for residual splash back. If you need a specific amount of chemicals to go to an exact depth in the flesh, then what you need is a laser needle. Scientists in South Korea have developed a laser-driven microjet injector that can launch a laser stream of medicine (or poison) directly into your body with precision.
The beam is about the size of a human hair, it’s extremely accurate, and — like any supervillain tech worth its salt — it’s a laser. Currently, the injector has to be pressed close to the skin, but a little more sinister R&D, we could be looking at a short-range injection gun. Assassins the world over will be able to shoot invisible, painless beams of toxins into their doomed targets at will. Also, babies won’t cry so much when they get their shots! There’s a silver lining to everything!