THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS
Now that the long-awaited Incredibles II is well and truly out there for us, complete with a host of new characters, inventions and villains, pH7 takes a look through the glasses of delightful engineer, materials scientist and fashion designer Edna Mode, and the (hypothetical) science behind her super designs.
Elastigirl- part-time superhero, part time Mum, Helen Parr- has the power of being incredibly flexible; in fact, her whole body can stretch up to five* times her normal height and expand horizontally to form a parachute, tethered to an object (such as a runaway high speed train) by her limbs. Her super suit must therefore be made of something with very high levels of elasticity so that it can not only stretch as far as she can, but also spring back into her usual size and shape at the drop of a hat. The best material for the job – at least, that’s available to those of us outside the Pixar universe – is spider silk: it can stretch up to five times its original length with no problems, just like Elastigirl. It can also be woven into a soft, breathable fabric with high tensile strength – so it will be pleasant to wear, and won’t tear if it gets snagged on anything.
Elastigirl also has a super-sexy way of getting around: the Elasticycle. Although the one in the movies is built by DevTech’s inventor Evelyn, it seems pretty safe to assume that this isn’t her first super-motorbike. To make the Elasticycle as fast and efficient as possible, the ideal material for the outer casing is carbon fiber: it’s tough and very lightweight, so the minimum energy is required to make it move fast. Since the Elasticycle can stretch just as far as Elastigirl herself, it’s going to need a high torque permanent magnet motor in each wheel. This way, she can accelerate the front wheel to stretch out, and accelerate the back wheel to catch it up to the front as she returns to her normal size.
Mr Incredible- Bob Parr- is a very classical sort of superhero: his outfit needs only to be strong, stretchy and well-fitting, so that his gargantuan muscles have space to flex, and any attempts to save the day aren’t thwarted by his suit getting caught in an inconvenient bicycle chain. Of course, Mr Incredible’s real superhero moment in Incredibles II might be considered the occasion on which he stayed up all night learning elementary maths in order to help Dash with his homework – in which case, perhaps he needs an outfit with a large pocket perpetually stocked with snacks, coffee, and school textbooks. Since the modern-day superhero might find all of these things using a combination of a kitchen and the internet, pH7 suggests that his suit should be made out of spider silk, as it fulfils the required properties for saving the world, matches his wife’s nicely (aww) and is relatively easy to wash on occasions where it ends up covered in cookie crumbs.
Despite renouncing her super suit part way through the movie, Violet still needs an outfit to make the most of her abilities – turning invisible, and generating a controllable forcefield capable of levitating her and resisting bullets. However, Violet cannot make her clothes invisible, so her suit needs to be able to turn invisible when she does. Invisibility isn’t something mortal scientists have cracked yet, however researchers at MIT have calculated that covering an object in tiny hairlike structures called nanowires could make it so. Nanowires deflect light so that it bends around an object rather than bouncing off it (we see by detecting the light reflected by things). Given that Edna Mode is no mere mortal scientist, pH7 are sure that she could build Violet a suit incorporating a layer of nanowires that extend whenever she disappears from view, making the suit invisible right along with her.
Given that a forcefield is essentially a barrier made of pure energy – which makes sense, as Violet is always super tired after maintaining it for a long period of time – pH7 assumes that she creates her forcefield by emitting and controlling ultraviolet radiation, since both of the other Parr children have names that reflect their powers. This would allow her to send out energy to repel objects. Since ultraviolet rays have a wavelength of 10-400 nanometres, a suit made of a material with gaps of a few nanometres between its fibres, such as microfiber polyester, would help the radiation she emits to diffract (where waves spread out as a result of travelling through a gap of similar size to their wavelength), meaning it would take less energy for Violet to form a forcefield bubble. The gaps in microfiber polyester are also perfectly sized for the nanofibres required to make Violet’s suit invisible; it’s also a stretchy, breathable material perfect for running and battling villains in.
Running is really the pursuit of Dashiel ‘Dash’ Robert Parr though; he’s always rushing about. Dash’s super suit needs to be made of something easy to move in, such as lycra (do superheroes sweat? If they do, this is perfect too). Although lycra is slick and shiny on its own, coating Dash’s suit in thousands of tiny “scales” made of polytetrafluoroethylene (the same stuff as the Teflon on non-stick pans) would reduce the friction between Dash and the air, letting him move even faster. Adding the teflon as scales gives Dash more room to stretch and makes the suit more breathable – as well as allowing in some air to reduce the risk of it catching fire from going so fast! Some shoes with plenty of cushioning in the heel to absorb energy and help his feet push back off the ground, and a tough grippy sole to protect from shrapnel and other after-effects of villains are also a must-have to keep Dash moving.
Jack-Jack’s frequent shifting and broad range of powers – he is, after all, a “Jack-of-all-trades” – make designing him a suit a particularly interesting challenge; it’s no wonder Edna spends an entire night observing him before coming up with a super suit. Since Mozart’s music is key to helping him engage his powers, fitting a small, waterproof speaker into the neck of the suit might be useful in helping Jack-Jack keep control. Several of Jack-Jack’s seventeen known powers could be enhanced by a super-suit: a grippy material would help with his ability to cling to vertical surfaces, and weaving the suit out of something with high electrical conductivity would improve his ability to direct the electricity he can generate. His suit should also be resistant to very high temperatures, as Jack-Jack’s powers are likely to lead to it being subjected to high levels of current, as well as flames. The suit material also needs to be incredibly stretchy as Jack-Jack is able to expand to several times his usual size. Giving the suit an outer layer woven from mineral wool would improve its heat- and flame-resistant properties; this could be formed into a mesh structure similar to knitted clothing to allow Jack-Jack to stretch and move around easily. Adding in textured bobbles made of silicone similar to that used for baking sheets and cooking spatulas would help increase the grippiness of the suit to make it even easier to stick to and climb up vertical surfaces. Dr Edna Mode has really outdone herself with this one; pH7’s collection of scientists, engineers and researchers are at a loss for how to make a suit for a baby that can multiply itself and visit the fourth dimension. Not all heroes wear capes!**
**Yes, we know that none of the sensible ones do – again, thanks to Edna’s excellent analysis and design skills.