Inventing Iron Man: MSFHR scholar explores the line between human and machine

15 September 2011

A high-tech mechanical suit like the one worn by comic book hero Iron Man may be within the grasp of modern science, according to former MSFHR scholar Dr. E. Paul Zehr. In a new book, “Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine,” Zehr draws on his work in neuroscience and kinesiology – along with a life-long enthusiasm for comic books – to explore the impact a real Iron Man suit might have on the human body.

In the book, released this month, Zehr looks at brain-machine interface and whether technology can be used to push the limits of human physical ability. His own research focuses on neural plasticity, the ability of the brain and spinal cord to form connections and create change in the nervous system, increasing mobility for patients who have suffered a stroke or spinal cord injury.

“Inventing Iron Man” isn’t the first time Zehr has applied science to the world of comic book heroes. He previously published the critically acclaimed book “Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero” to determine if the human body, subjected to intensive training, could approach the near-superhuman abilities of the famed caped crusader.

Zehr believes comic books offer a fun and accessible way to educate people about neuroscience concepts. He recently presented his work at San Diego’s popular comic book convention and will be providing a free talk Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m., hosted by ICORD, a BC-based centre for spinal cord research and treatment. Visit the ICORD website for more information.

Zehr was the recipient of a 2003 MSFHR Career Investigator Award and is a past chair of the MSFHR Research Advisory Council. He currently serves as director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Biomedical Research and is a professor in the UVic Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory and a lead researcher at ICORD.