Avast, here cometh Actual Physics Man!


HomeHome / Blog / Avast, here cometh Actual Physics Man!

Sep 01, 2023

Avast, here cometh Actual Physics Man!

By day, Filip Wiltgren is a mild-mannered communications officer and lecturer. By night, he turns into a frenzied ten-fingered typist, clawing out jagged stories of fantasy and science fiction, found

By day, Filip Wiltgren is a mild-mannered communications officer and lecturer. By night, he turns into a frenzied ten-fingered typist, clawing out jagged stories of fantasy and science fiction, found in lairs such as Analog, IGMS, Daily SF and Nature Futures. His books, thoughts, e-mail and free stories can be found at www.wiltgren.com.

You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar

Illustration by Jacey

You have full access to this article via your institution.

“Avast, here cometh Actual Physics Man!” I thundered.

Or I tried. The 22 metre-per-second wind gusting over the roof was like sticking your head out the window on the freeway. My declaration came out more like a forced gasp. Also, the roof being peaked at 25 degrees, the tiles being sub-zero temperature wet zinc and the drop being four floors, my thundering voice might have squeaked more than I’d have liked.

It got the villain’s attention, though.

“That’s got to be the worst name ever,” he said, his goggles shining with a presumably evil blue glow. “You pick it up at Nerds-R-Us or something?”

He was an imposing figure, balancing atop the dark-grey roof in his pristine white suit, a cape gently — and completely contra-factually, considering the strength and direction of the wind — billowing behind him. He probably had a hard-core market-friendly name like Chill-Out or Mr Ice or something.

My comeback, comparing his white suit to a cake decoration, got strangled as my right boot lost the battle against the static friction coefficient of wet zinc and slipped.

I panic-grabbed the ridge, keeping myself from sliding away. Frozone or Icingdeath or something laughed. His goggles shone with a piercing, cold blue light. Like staring into the maw of a blue supergiant going nova. I was somewhat envious.

“What, no comeback?” he said. “Acting Physic Man?”

“It’s Actual Physics,” I shouted, clambering up onto the peak and straddling the roof like a horse.

Read more science fiction from Nature Futures

“Whatever,” Mr Penguin said. Dammit, that wasn’t right. No black in his suit. I’d have to do better or I’d be frost on the pavement.

“Surrender, and I’ll put in a good word for you,” I tried. The goggles dimmed for a deca-second. Incredulity, probably. Then the blue light flooded the roof, and Mr Frost spit to the side. His spittle clinked as it hit the zinc tiles.

“Loser,” he said, raising his arm, a ball of shining sky-blue sparks coalescing around it.

Which shouldn’t exist. At 22 metres per second, any loose matter should be blown away. Besides, I sat 10 metres away. Something the size of a spark would need to be several orders of magnitude denser than osmium to reach me.

Here came the wind-up, one leg in the air, one white boot impossibly immobile on the roof tiles. Swing. Throw.

The ball of energy flashed towards me — and dissolved into rapidly extinguishing dust that the wind ripped away.

“The hell?” Snowy the Snowman said, arm extended, standing on tippy-toes like a baseball ballerina.

“Not hell,” I replied. That big, white boot couldn’t be touching the roof on more than a square centimetre total area. Say one-and-a-half to be on the safe side. It looked to be rubber, frozen solid obviously. Which meant it would be at 4.5 on the Moh scale and coated with a surface of ice. The friction coefficient of wet zinc against ice is 0.01. The wind would exert a force dozens of times higher than 10 newtons.

Snowy the Snowman’s leg shot out from under him. He windmilled in the air before striking the roof, the crack of shattering goggles audible over the howl of the wind, accompanied by Snowy’s scream for a duration of four floors, or slightly longer than 2.1 seconds.

Followed by a definitive thud.

I edged over to the side of the building, carefully keeping one leg on each side of the roof peak. Far in the dim, rain-spattered distance below me, Snowy’s white suit was turning red.

“Not hell,” I repeated. “Physics.”

Once again, Actual Physics Man saves the day. Now all I had to do was figure out a way to get off the roof.

Filip Wiltgren reveals the inspiration behind Avast, here cometh Actual Physics Man!

I like superheroes. Watching a superhero movie is a bit like watching one of those super-slow-mo clips on YouTube — you never know if the part you’re looking at is true or has been … let’s call it enhanced.

Now, I watch quite reputable YouTube, so what I see should conform to our reality no matter how amazing it looks. Because, let’s face it, physics is cool, and doubly so when you can visualize it.

But back to the superheroes, and what would happen if they’d ever encounter real physics.

They’d get squashed, quite literally in several cases. Superman would burn up from friction, or, if we assume he’s got a super body, he’d end up naked and arrested for indecent exposure. The Hulk would smash all the bones in his hand with each punch and just running would give him a hernia. Spider-Man would end up facing turbulence and smashing himself against the glass wall of some skyscraper. Also, where does Superman put his glasses when he changes?

Of course, you can’t beat superheroes in their own cinematic universe. So if you want victory, you’d have to switch things around. Or bring them to some place where physics actually makes sense. Add rain, and you’ve got the beginning of Actual Physics Man.

As for YouTube, I can recommend Veritasium and Smarter Every Day.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-023-02465-0

The end of infinity by Filip Wiltgren

I’m sorry I set fire to your foot by Filip Wiltgren

Alien, go home by Filip Wiltgren

When Nain came to Shirin’s door by Filip Wiltgren

Self-limited by Filip Wiltgren

There is a beep by Filip Wiltgren

Contrariwise by Gretchen Tessmer

Eight laws I wound up breaking while attempting to restore the timeline by P. A. Cornell

When we become stars by Simon Pan

A singular heart by Preston Grassmann

Light years by Ayida Shonibar

Memory Day report by Dominic Bock

Excerpts from after-action interviews regarding the incident at Penn Station by Ron Fein

Deus est machina by Erica L Satifka

Don’t feed the physicists by Alex Small

Our mutual friend, the prediction algorithm by Andrew Kozma

SCUM of the Earth by Richard A. Lovett

The Center for Evolutionary & Organismal Biology invites applications from evolutionary scientists for All ranks.

Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China

Center for Evolutionary & Organismal Biology, Zhejiang University

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) Intramural Research Program (IRP

Bethesda, Maryland (US)

LeRheas Media Corporation

National Institutes of Health invites applications for a Staff Scientist in RNA/Computational Biology in the LRBGE Branch.

Bethesda Maryland


Two Swedish national Centers of Excellence, UCMR and UPSC, offer a postdoctoral fellowship for interdisciplinary project

Umeå, Sweden

Umeå University

We are seeking a highly skilled post-doctoral researcher with demonstrated expertise in large scale microbial fermentation

Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein (DE)

Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR)