Science Fiction or Science Fact: The Living Laser

The portrayal of lasers in comic books is typically light on the science and heavy on the fiction. Requiring the reader to suspend a great portion of their belief, there are a few instances in which the laser applications found between the pages are surprisingly true to life. Just one of these instances was Marvel‘s the Living Laser.

The Living Laser was created by Stan Lee and Don Heck in 1966. The Marvel Comics villain has appeared in a number of story arcs, usually opposite Iron Man.While it is unlikely that we will see the Living Laser in any of the big screen adaptations of Marvel’s classic tales, the Living Laser serves as a reminder that not all pop culture iterations of laser technology are completely unrealistic.

When characters like X-Men’s Cyclops were created, the word “laser” was still in the process of being introduced to the world’s vocabulary. The general public, including the creators, had very little knowledge of how a laser actually worked. forcing aspects of some character’s origins to be rewritten over time. The Living Laser, however, was an attempt to fix some of those early errors, by creating a ever-so-slightly more realistic laser application to the printed page.

The Living Laser started as a scientist with a criminal streak. He developed a weapon consisting of wrist mounted lasers to aid in his crimes. While, sure, someone could develop a device that emits a small, low powered laser from the wrist, the beams used by the Living Laser are far more powerful than one could, or would even want to have anywhere near their flesh.

Realistically, the types of lasers that could be strapped to a human being would be closer to that of a laser pointer than a powerful weapon. So unless the Living Laser is aiming right at Tony Stark’s eyes or maybe skin, Iron Man would absolutely have the technical advantage in the fight.

The comics smooth this over by claiming that the Living Laser was “scientifically proficient” enough to overcome barriers associated with his weapon. How exactly a mortal man overcomes extreme heat, the need for a strong power source, or size limitations is where obvious signs of a work of fiction come into play. The Living Laser’s technology was not completely ignorant to physical principles, but still took a number of liberties in the application.

The Living Laser later upgraded himself as a super-villain by developing a way to implant the laser apparatus into his body. This gave the Living Laser the ability to not only project his lasers further, but also allowed for the manipulation of the refraction of light, allowing the Living Laser to become invisible to the naked eye. Over time, the Living Laser increased the amount and power of his laser implants before overpowering himself and becoming entirely made of photons, thus literally becoming his namesake: A Living Laser.

As off the wall as the concept of a biological laser sounds, the concept is actually the closest to reality of any of the Living Laser’s background. In 2011, scientists were able to create a laser light using human cells and jellyfish proteins, prompting the first use of biological materials to make a laser, generating light from a living organism. The idea of turning cells into lasers have a number of applications in the medical field. In the not-so-distant future, cells that need to be thoroughly researched or monitored could be turned into lasers, so the construction and composition of the cell can be easier, and more thoroughly analyzed. That being said, turning a living being into photons is entirely a concept of fiction.

However, a Harvard-based study expanded on the concept of biological lasers last Summer, proposing it as a way to monitor cancer and other cell-based ailments. The researchers found three different ways to make human cells emit light, by injecting oil droplets, fat cells, and macrophages into cells. When injected into the material, the cells were able to emit light. Injecting cells to monitor them is far from new. However, the visible wavelengths using fluorescent dyes are far more difficult to distinguish than that of laser light. Using laser light, it is entirely possible to give different cells very different appearances. The researchers anticipate using the findings to monitor tumors and immune system ailments. We won’t be able to turn invisible like the Living Laser, but we may live a little longer by putting lasers inside of us.

If anything, the Living Laser, and other related super humans give a very rudimentary introduction to the laser. While far from textbook accurate, the placement of lasers in popular culture pique the interest of people of all ages. The Living Laser is just one of many examples of the world’s fascination with the laser beam.