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.
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"Tomorrow's forecast ... um ... c-cold? Hang on, gimme a sec."
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
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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.
"Who's only going to want one type of tractor beam? Pull your head out of your ass, Gary."
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.
It can only be voice-activated by maniacal laughter.
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.
This replaces the older method of playing Adele songs until the enemy was subdued with clinical depression.
Though if it's pure psychological terror/confusion you're going for, then you'd probably want ...