Science Fiction or Science Fact: Does Cyclops Have Laser Eyes?

Often portrayed as the team leader in Marvel Comics’ X-Men, Scott Summers a.k.a. Cyclops, is usually seen as the straight-laced, clean-cut, by-the-book type of hero. As a mutant, his ability or “power” is to shoot powerful optic beams. Cyclops struggles with controlling his power, due to a head injury as a child. In an effort to contain the blasts, Cyclops wears protective eyewear, usually sunglasses or a visor, with ruby quartz lenses. The beams are often portrayed as ruby-red in color, and fire straight ahead of where his eyes are pointed. 

Clearly, mutant powers are very much a work of fiction, so writing off Cyclops and his optic blasts as scientifically inaccurate is where most leave the idea. Surprisingly, despite numerous inaccuracies in the technicalities of his powers, Cyclops has a much stronger connection to laser history than meets the eye.

Even if your entire knowledge of the X-Men universe is the recent films, you have a relative idea of just how intense the blasts Cyclops uses are. In some instances, the blasts have been strong enough to level mountains. Despite of how it may appear, Cyclops does not have laser eyes. Like many comic book characters, Cyclops’ has had much of his story altered, rewritten, and totally done away with over time. The current accepted “explanation” of his powers is that optic beams are actually a directed beam of kinetic directed force “of unknown composition”. According to Marvel, Cyclops official power is the “ability to project a beam of heatless, ruby-colored, concussive force from his eyes,” Oh, and they are also solar powered, because what better energy source than the sun, right?

While, currently, Cyclops’ powers are almost a mockery of real life physics, waving away concerns about eye damage, power sources, and cool-down times, it is important to keep in mind one important thing about Cyclops as a character. Cyclops dates back to the early 1960’s, making his character, and by extension, his powers, about as old as the laser itself. As ridiculous as the idea of laser beams emitted from one’s eyes sounds today, this is an example of a then-new scientific development finding its way directly into pop culture, for better or for worse.

So, if Cyclops’ powers were quietly retconned to account for the lack of scientific accuracy, why of all substances, was ruby quartz chosen as the material for the lenses used to keep the beams at bay. As a somewhat rare gemstone, ruby quartz is better suited for making jewelry than for protective eyewear. In its natural state, the gemstone is on the fragile side, crumbling easily. Its likely rather, that deciding upon ruby quartz was directly inspired by the ruby laser, developed by Theodore H. “Ted” Maiman, in 1960. The ruby which used a “synthetic ruby crystal as its gain medium,” and is credited as the first working laser. Using ruby quartz as a way to contain what was then “laser beams” was likely based upon a very vague, rudimentary understanding of how lasers work. As Cyclops developed as a character, so did his powers, becoming the interdimensional, unknown substance beams accepted today.

An important detail often left out of scenes involving Cyclops using his powers is how drastically his neck would snap back when “firing” the beams. According to The Physics of Superheroes, if Newton’s Third Law applies in this universe, the beam of force would push back on Cyclops’ head with “a recoil force of 4,000 pounds.” Not to mention that Cyclops’ head would fling back at a speed close to 20 times that of gravity. Essentially, Cyclops would need a healing ability similar to that of fellow X-Men team member Wolverine in order to endure the recurring broken neck, and other injuries caused by the recoil.

While superheroes, mutants, and beings from sci-fi universes, like Cyclops often possess powers and weapons that would never be possible in the real world, almost all of them have some degree of realism in their origin. While no, Cyclops does not actually have “laser eyes,” his powers, and protective eyewear were heavily inspired by developments in laser technology. In the comic book world, incorrect concepts can be crafted into being “unknown substances” and from alternate But more often than not, these concepts are at least loosely based in factual studies, experiments and concepts.  Cyclops’ optic beams, and ruby quartz lenses? Completely science fiction, with a very heavy influence from early laser technology.