Superhero Puzzle #6 — Explain Hulk’s Strength and Invulnerability

Actually, the Hulk is not invulnerable to harm.  He feels some pain, and his skin and inner tissues can be damaged, but they repair super-fast.  That’s part of what this puzzle is set to explain.  The other part is the way Hulk gets stronger the angrier he gets.

The Hulk

The madder he gets, the stronger he gets. It’s all about nuclear energy storage and release. But how? 

In Marvel comics Bruce Banner is a nuclear physicist who saves the life of a young kid who wanders accidentally into a “gamma bomb” test facility.  In saving the kid Banner receives a full blast of gamma radiation.  Instead of killing him,  as all the laws of physics suggest it should, it triggers mutations in his DNA or radical alterations in his physiology and neurology which enables his body cells to exponentially enlarge and strengthen, but only when his rage or anger hormones, pulse rate, and neural activity peak.

This already has some fascinating physics and biology potential.  For instance, there is some kind of implied biochemical — nuclear physics link, which is extraordinary, because biochemistry operates at the level of electrons around atoms, whereas gamma radiation effects influence primarily the nuclei of atoms, and there is a massive gulf in length and time scale between nuclear and atomic physics.  Atomic physics is (in time scales) to nuclear physics like glacier motion is to photon torpedoes.  And in length scales atomic physics is to nuclear physics like the Grand Canyon is to an Ant Hill.  In energy levels atomic physics is like a tickle from a ducklings feather compared to uranium-tipped missile impacts of nuclear physics.

Another Hulking condition which is fascinating to try to explain with realistic science is the way Hulk gets almost infinitely stronger the angrier he gets.  So he literally has never truly been beaten in a fight, not even by Thor and Mjolnir, or more malevolent gods and demons, since the longer and more brutal the fight, the stronger he gets.

Gamma Rays

Gamma rays are just very high energy light waves, or photons.  (Light has this dual characteristic, sometimes acting like waves, sometimes like particles which we call “photons”.  It’s a mystery to modern science why light has this dual nature, so I will not discuss it here, since it’s a science topic of it’s own.)

Not all light waves/particles are visible to our eyes.  For instance, infrared is lower energy then red light and is invisible to our eyes, but not to our heat sense.  Ultraviolet light is higher energy than blue light and is invisible to our eyes, but not to the eyes of honey bees.

X-rays are higher energy than ultraviolet, which is how they can penetrate soft tissues and are useful for medical imaging and remote sensing.  Gamma-rays are the generic name for all light waves/particles higher in energy than X-rays.  So gamma-rays cover a massive energy range.

Absorption of Gamma Ray Energy

Over the decades The Hulk has exerted so much force and strength and healing that the total energy he has used would greatly exceed that of the initial gamma ray energy dose form the nuclear test accident.

Quick Calculation: prove this “fact” using some rough estimates.  Include reasonable uncertainties to back up the fact.  (A solution will be published in a later article.)

So one of the first puzzles is to explain how The Hulk can continue being super-strong.  This has to be related to the biomechanism of his hulking condition.

The other main puzzle is to explain how come his hulking state is triggered by anger, rage and stress.

You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Anger, rage, stress — are all physiological responses to external stimuli.  The body’s response occurs via the relay of the stress signals to the brain.  So the primary response is neurological.  Sometimes the stimulus can be direct nerve impulses, like heat, cold, cuts, punches and other pains and stresses.  Other things can trigger the same neurological responses, such as emotional pain.  The commonality is the part of the brain that responds.

In all such responses to stress the brain fires nerve impulses to glands which produce stress hormones, like adrenalin, cortisol, histamines, epinephrin, norepinephrin, glucocorticoids, catecholamines, and others.  But none of these hormones can grow muscle cells, or enlarge and toughen body tissue like in the Hulk’s condition.  So we need to postulate some rather unique biology to account for the Hulk.

But the neurological stress response and the associated hormone response is the start.  The main problem I think is that this is all chemistry, whereas gamma-ray energy (the source of the Hulk’s power) is all nuclear.  But that needs some elaboration.

One of the types of hormone released in stress responses are growth hormones, such as certain steroids and prolactin, and maybe stuff like creatine.  These can be a big factor for Hulk.  Since we have to explain rapid muscle growth.

For the Hulk, these have to be somewhat super-charged hormones.  They must act thousands of times faster than they do normally.  So for this we need a nice tight nuclear-to-electrical response pathway, one that accelerates hormone effects, by-passing a lot of the “slow chemistry”..

Gamma Ray Energy is Nuclear Energy

The tricky thing about gamma rays is that they have such high energy that chemically, and hence biologically, they are just plain destructive.  Chemical processes operate at much gentler atomic or electrical energies, which are about hundreds to thousands of times lower in energy than nuclear energy levels.

So for Hulk to be powered by gamma-ray energy his body would need to be radically altered from normal human condition so that his atoms can store nuclear energy.  It has to be nuclear, it cannot be the gentler electrical-atomic type of energy.  The binding between atoms is purely electrical in character.  So all chemistry is electrical.  Hence all biology is electrical.  There is really nothing nuclear about chemistry.

All the nuclear force contributes to chemistry si the stability fo the positively charged atom nuclei.  The nuclear forces holds protons and neutrons tightly packed in the nucleus of every atom, and the nucleus is where 90% of the mass of an atom is packed.  But aside from the positive electric charge of the protons, the nucleus plays no other role in chemistry.  It is simply the positive attrctive kernel of every atom which holds the negatively charged electrons in orbit around the atom.  Aside from this concentrated positive electric charge of the nucleus, all chemistry is all electrons.

That’s why chemistry is not a good basis for the Hulk’s superpowers. This is because the force of electricity is much weaker (about a million times weaker over short ranges) than the nuclear force.  By the way, if you need words, the usual name for the nuclear force is “the quantum chromodynamic force“, or just QCD for short.

Gamma ray energies correspond to transition within nuclei.  They are typically millions or more “electronvolts”.  An electron volt is just a convenient unit of energy, it corresponds to the energy gained or lost by one electron moving through a voltage difference of one volt.  So it’s not much, but when packed into a single photon it is a super-dense amount of energy.  A million electron volts is still not much energy, if it struck your finger in the form of a spark of electricity it would hardly register on your skin, but again, when a million electron-volts is packed into one tiny particle then it is a super-super-dense packing of energy.  So gamma-rays are just such ultra-dense packets of energy.  That’s why they are harmful, since one gamma-ray can disrupt atoms and hence tear apart chemical molecules, and so can cause mutations in DNA.  Normally such damage from gamma-rays is just plain damaging, and also a bit unpredictable in effect, other than that you can predict fairly certainly it will be harmful.

But somehow the nuclear energy received by Bruce Banner triggered obvious biochemical changes in his physiology. Not just catastrophic chaotic damage.  So the trick to providing some plausible science for The Hulk is mainly in figuring out how nuclear energy can be stored and regenerated and then transferred into chemical energy.  This is a hard puzzle, because the electric force and the nuclear QCD force do not easily interact.

The QCD-nuclear force operates on time scales of billionths of a second, whereas the electric-chemical force operates on time scales of microseconds. The QCD-nuclear force operates over length scales of billionths of a micrometer, while the electric-chemical force operates over lengths scales of millimetres to micrometres to metres or even sometimes kilometres, a billion times longer range than nuclear-QCD forces.  So it’s a problem coming up with a mechanism for transferring nuclear energy into electrical energy.  Some sort of bridging mechanism is needed.  What could it be?

Nuclear to Atomic Level Transitions

The tiny dense ultrafast world of the nucleus is so far removed from the gentle swirling spacious world of atomic electrons that there seems no way to bridge thee divide.  It is analogous to bridging the separation between  a droplet of water and an entire ocean.  Or like comparing a giant fierce star with a tiny candle flame.

But energy is ubiquitous and is nature’s natural currency.  So there has to be some way to get the dense highly dangerous nuclear energy stored in Bruce Banner out and up-level to the slower lower level of chemistry of Hulk.

The stored nuclear gamma-energy has to be in the form of highly exotic and normally unstable nuclear systems, these are at the tiny dense heart of every atom.  Normally unstable exotic nuclear states decay rapidly, releasing bursts of gamma-ray energy or other radiation products, like alpha particles or beta particles.  But in Bruce Banner these exotic states have to be so intricate that they have become self-stabilising, and yet still loaded with excess energy like highly coiled springs.  Super-springs really,  Super-super-duper springs.

So what’s really going on?  Well, it has to be something to do with the exotic physics of Superstrings and $n$-branes.  These are the hypothetical elements of all particles found in nature.  Every particle, from electrons to photons, are really tiny vibrating strings or membranes, like ultra-ultra-ultra-microscopic stringed instruments, only with any instrument backbone, just the stringiness.

Superstrings are supposedly non science fiction either, there is good reason to suppose they are truly what physical matter is composed from.  And here’s the key thing:  if a superstring is excited by a huge amount, it vibrates differently, and this is a form of compactly stored energy, in fact so compact that it will easily do the job of explaining how Bruce Banner can have so much energy packed inside his body.   The trouble is, the physics of superstrings takes place on much, much, much smaller length and times scales than even the incredibly dense and compact realm of nuclear physics.  Superstrings are a whole new deeper level of reality.

But, the same physics governing superstrings and $n$-branes is reproduced at the much large (yet still atomically tiny) nuclear level of the QCD force.  So we can postulate that highly exotic nuclear structure is somehow self-stabilised in Bruce Banners body, storing vast quantities of energy, like incredibly tiny but super-tensely wound springs.  The subatomic particles involved are the quarks and gluons which are what all  nuclei are made up from. But in Bruce Banner we are postulating extremely exotic states of such matter, normally too unstable to exist, by somehow stabilised by Banner’s exposure to the intense gamma radiation.

So I will call this sort of energetics quark-gluon-super-springs. It really has to be exotic too.  Like, if normal nuclei are plain mono-frequency musical notes, then the nuclear matter in Bruce Banner’s body is like a Mozart symphony.    And somehow this energy is released and catalyses his hulking state via a new type of nuclear-to-chemical energy transition mechanism, which also has to be incredibly exotic.

Since the nuclear physics has to involve nuclei, not atomic electrons, the way hulking can happen has to be through a network of nuclei, and this network has to be virtually the entirety of Banners body.  His body has become one vast nuclear battery, or super-network of “nuclear-springs” (to use the super-spring analogy).

This network must become “excited” by his hormones and emotive neurological states, which must cause global patterns of atomic-nuclei vibrations, and it can only be at a global level that it starts to effect chemistry, since electrons (the prime particles involved in chemical processes) move and vibrate at much larger spatial and longer time scales than nuclei.

Think of the electrons as little gusts of wind, and the nuclei as an array of swings or pendulums.  If the gusts of wind act in concert they can produce vibrations of the pendulums, and if the pendulums swing in orchestrated ways they can generate gusts of wind.  This is the sort of cross-level physics we need to pass energy from nuclear levels up to larger slower chemical levels.

What orchestrates this interplay of vastly different levels of physics are the unique molecules in Banner’s body which we have to postulate were fabricated somewhat miraculously (and on a strictly one-time only basis, which is really what “miraculous” means in this context) by the gamma-ray nuclear test accident he was involved with which gave him hulking powers.

How did such miracle proteins or biomolecules get “fabricated”?   Well, here we are truly into fantasy land.  I would suggest (to a conscientious comic book scifi writer) that the miracle proteins were formed in a complicated highly intricate self-organising milieu of gamma-ray energy and nuclear excitations and chemical transitions, which must have occurred in Banner as a response to the extraordinary high does of gamma energy he received.

But “self-organising” is far too flippant a phrase.  It can be used to justify almost anything semi-miraculous.  And when you have a phrase that can justify almost anything you really have no explanation.  It’s like invoking a “hand of god”.  So there has to be a lot more science involved in trying to explain the self-organising chaos which led to Banner’s unique condition.

Unfortunately, I am going to have to invoke another almost meaningless piece of science.  Darwinian evolution!  It’s not that this is bad science, not at all.  The problem is that Darwinian evolution is such a  general explanation that it really is no explanation.  It is just an umbrella concept for all biological evolution in living systems.  But I will use it anyway.  However, I have to give it a nuclear twist.

Nuclear Darwinism

Here I’m going to use some crazy ideas.  I’m happy with my conclusion, but I’m not sure others will find it palatable.  Here goes.

The thing is, processes at the nuclear scale happen so fast that there could be life at that level of physics but we’d never know it.  The lifetime of a nuclear living system would be so short it would be born and die of old age in the time it takes for us to have a cup of tea and contemplate an experiment to detect such life.  Before we begin the experiment the life would be gone, and a whole new nuclear civilization might be born and then decay before we could communicate with it.  For their part, the nuclear life would think we were so vast and expansive and slowly evolving they’d think we were dead entities, assuming they could somehow detect us.  They would not be able to detect much movement or motion in the world at our level of life..

So here’s how Banner’s body reacted to the gamma ray energy.  It triggered an entire civilisation worth of nuclear life.  And artifacts in the nuclear scale evolution of this life within his nuclei were systematized and coordinated by the vast global does of radiation his entire body received.  The nuclear life used all this energy like it was golden rays of sunlight (to use a solar analogy).  And in an instant to us, their nuclear universe evolved centuries or millenia.

With such huge spans of nuclear time, this life was able to delve into the (to them) incredibly slow world of molecular chemistry, and they (the nuclear life) intelligently fabricated the unique biomolecules in banners body and endowed them with the capacity to globally channel nuclear energy in the form of highly unstable exotic super-spring states which the nuclear sentience also was able to manipulate.  They created a stable nuclear-to-chemical monster mechanism. Only to this life, there would seem to be no monster.  The Hulk was in fact a side-effect which worked on a length and time scale so foreign to the nuclear life that they could not even learn much abut it.

The hulking states is, to this nuclear life, a massively prolonged condition (taking millenia in their subjective psychological time) to form and pass.  In fact, they view the hulking state as a sort of long-term seasonal or climatic event.

What Nuclear Darwinism Has to Achieve for The Hulk

The spawning and chance evolution over the course of a few seconds of a nuclear civilisation which spans Bruce Banners entire body, allowing a global transformation of his physiology.

The nuclear life evolves sentient intelligence which is able to manipulate Bruce Banners biology to trap the gamma ray energy.

In order to replenish the energy spent by Hulk the nuclear intelligence must engineer a mechanism of energy transitions on two directions, one releasing energy into Banner’s cells, causing ultra-strength and super-fast healing.  The second type of cascade must replenish the spent nuclear energy, this would be a slower process.

The super-fast healing would be comparatively trivial for the nuclear intelligence to engineer, once they have energy transfer mechanisms in place, since on the Hulk’s biological time a matter of seconds to would seem like centuries of time to this intelligence.  In fact, to this nuclear sentience the Hulk’s healing would seem exceedingly slow.

They engineer all this because they are symbiotes, they live off the gamma ray energy stored up in Banners atomic nuclei.  They prevent it’s release because it is to their advantage to keep it stored.

Banner’s hormones act as a global channel for the energy transfer, possible in both the directions up and down in energy level cascades.  This is the trickiest pseudo-science aspect to finesse though, and I have not really finished it to my satisfaction.

There are real protein structures in our brains called microfibrils, which have, in some scientific circles, been postulated as channels whereby quantum mechanical states can amplify their exotic character up to macroscopic molecular level.  So why not the same with pure energy?  The physics here needs a bit more thought.  The crude idea is that if microfibrils can amplify superposed quantum states up to macroscopic dimensions, then maybe similar protein structures, acting perhaps in orchestration with exotic hormones, could amplify super-spring energy locked up in Bruce Banner’s nuclei up to macroscopic dimensions enabling his cellular chemistry to tap into this energy.

To summarise so far, I am postulating that the Hulk has superpowers that derive from the initial gamma-ray energy which has been stored deep in the heart of his atomic nuclei, where vast quantities of energy can be wrapped up in tiny volumes of space occupying less than 1% of the space of a typical atom.  But we need more than just energy storage, we need a mechanism of energy transfer and release.  My invented mythology postulates a nuclear sentience that rapidly evolved inside ruce Banner ina  mere few seconds or minutes, and which, for it’s own survival, re-engineered Banner’s physiology on a global scale, so that his entrie body became a condit for storage and release of exotic nuclear states of matter, primarily in the form of nuclear dimension superstring like strucutre, which i am calling “super-springs”.

More then Energy

The hulking superpowers require more than mere pure energy.  To be put to special uses, like cellular repair, super-toughness and super-power metabolic muscle action, the stored nuclear energy needs to be spent on toughening Hulk’s skin and increasing the toughness and strength when his anger hormones and neurological processes become amplified.

My theory is that this amplification happens also primarily on the nuclear level, and only propagates up to the chemical–cellular level as a relatively slow side-effect.  This slowed-down energy release and utilisation stops Hulk from literally burning up from rage.  If his body is analogous to an intricate nuclear-power battery, then when this battery energy is released it would create enough waste heat to vaporize normal body cells.

So Banner/Hulk’s hormone, endocrine and neural system act in a highly fine-tuned way to channel the trapped nuclear energy into raid cell restoration, regrowth, and active toughening.

Why “active toughening”?  The reason is that I have a problem imagining increased muscle bulk alone would make hulk so strong.  I mean, he can lift a Tank for heavens sake, and throw it about a kilometre through the air.  He can survive in the vacuum of space without bursting from the pressure differential, and can swim underwater for prolonged periods.  So his energy utilization is incredible and sophisticated.  It has to be either controlled by some inner symbiotic sentience inside his nuclei, or has been engineered by such sentience to endow him with these amazing survival characteristics.

He is not quite at Wolverine’s level of damage repair and regeneration, but he comes close to it.  Wolverine’s power was a genetic mutation.  In Hulk, I am saying it is a mutation at a nuclear level, not genetic.  It would just be far too improbably that the gamma-bomb radiation magically triggered just the right genetic/DNA mutations to give him hulking powers.  Although, still relatively magical, the nuclear level sentience is, for me personally, the better scifi mythology.

Finally, the active strengthening and toughening is necessary because muscle bulk does not scale in the required way for explaining Hulk’s incredible strength.  If you scale normal human strength up to Hulk’s muscle size, you would get a human capable of lifting maybe a small car, or punching through a 10 inch thick concrete wall.  But Hulk has far stronger strength.  So I postulate that his strength is not proportional to muscle mass, but is rather due to activated muscular energy.  His muscles amplify nuclear power and act like hydraulic systems, only nuclear-hydraulics, not fluid hydraulics, the difference being that nuclear activated systems have millions of times more power than fluid systems.

So Hulk’s strength derives mainly from energy release rather than muscle chemistry.  His muscles are merely a further conduit, along with his neurology and stress hormones, for amplifying the stored nuclear energy in his atomic nuclei.

And the same with his tissue structural toughness.  His toughness is a direct response to pressure and stress on his body and cells, it actively repels bullets and shock waves and lasers, his skin does not merely deflect or absorb shocks, it actively responds to shock, so that the greater the forces penetrating his skin and tissue, the faster the triggered responses his nuclear-energy amplification mechanisms respond — both in absorbing the shocks and storing the energy of them.  This helps explain why Hulk’s nuclear energy is never depleted.  All his fights and battles just re-store most of the energy he uses.  Pretty much in every Hulk story, if you total the amount of energy he is bombarded with, it is easily way more than the total energy he expends to win his battles.

Using Nuclear Darwinism in Scifi

There’s a good “hard scifi”  novel by Robert L. Forward called “Dragons Egg“.  It is the story of one civilization of nuclear-based life forms living on a neutron star which drifts close to our solar system and is discovered by a team of astronauts.   I loved that story because it has no overt violence or gratuitous sex or murder and so forth.  it does have life and death, but in the context of an evolving society and epochs of a civilisation.  It is the story of a civilisation which develops on the neutron star, under the crushing gravitational field and immensely strong magnetic field enveloping the star, and it’s discovery of human life and it’s eventual transcendence.  The human astronauts spend only a few months studying the star, and during this time the life on the star evolves from primitive life equivalent to protozoa, and then human cave-people, and then rapidly (by human time frames) evolves into a modern scientific society and then after a few months of human time, this nuclear life has grown too advanced for the human’s to comprehend.  At first, after about a week, the nuclear life works out how to communicate with the humans, who at first they thought of as gods, but by the end of the next week the nuclear civilisation regards the humans as primitive, and they understand all about human beings.  At the end of the story the nuclear life on the star is god-like compared to the human astronauts.  Thousands of generations of nuclear people have lived and died while the astronauts have aged only a few months.

The crazy idea that Bruce Banner was saved by a similar form of life living inside his body at a nuclear level is sheer fantasy of course, but I think within the parameters of the superhero puzzle game … perhaps only just!  I would just add one more element to the Banner/Hulk mythology.

Completing the Hulk Mythology

The issue is that the gamma-bomb accident took place in a  matter of seconds, which although centuries in nuclear civilisation terms (multiple generations of life and death to nuclear sentience) this is still a bit to fast for a complex scientific civilisation to have evolved.

I think for the evolution of the nuclear sentience inside Banner’s atoms to evolve, it needed to be seeded by some sort of genesis event before the gamma-bomb accident.  So I would add the The Hulk mythology the low-level gamma-radiation doses received during the benign research phases of Bruce Banner’s physics experiments.  This is crucial because it gave Banner a prolonged very slow low-level exposure to the special energetic gamma-rays that he would later use for his protoype gamma-bomb.  (It’s a so-called “non-destructive weapon”, which is a  gross misnomer, since it is designed to knock out life forms, but not buildings, so in fact it is incredibly destructive to life).

The crucial thing is that Banner was exposing himself to the special type of low-level dose, and his entire body received the doses.  This global dosing was what i hypothesise, allowed the nuclear life to evolve inside his atoms, in the heart of his nuclei.  His gamma-ray experiments were like the Sun for our Earth to this nuclear civilisation.  His body’s atoms were It’s continents and planets.

So the gamma-ray bomb accident was more like a propellant, a supernova for the nuclear life that had already evolved inside Banner’s body’s atoms.  They used this event as a super-powered source of tremendous energy they needed to make large-scale sweeping physiological changes to their entire universe.  Their universe is, of course, Banner’s body.  They cannot exist anywhere else by, say, jumping to another body, like fleas, because nuclear life cannot exist where the nuclear energy is lacking, and Banner’s atoms had gradually become tuned to the gamma-ray energy so that highly exotic nuclear structure, in the form of quark-gluon super-spring energetics, and no other human had developed the same adaptations because no one else had been as close to his physics experiments.

The thing is, despite the apparent absurdity of nuclear sentient life, it is not scientifically impossible.  So it falls within acceptable hard scifi parameters, and is thus admissible in the Superhero Puzzle game.  and the cool thing about it is that nuclear life really would have this ultra-fast time evolution according to human perspectives.  They really would evolve from cave-people to modern scientists within days of human time.  And now that we have this concept in our pocket (so-to-speak), we can re-use it for other superhero myths.

It’s a great bit of scifi since it can be re-used for multiple effects when needed.  Anytime we want something with gamma-ray types of energy to do intricate delicate things on a chemical level, then this is your answer.  Use nuclear life, nuclear Darwinism, imagine a world within our world which views us as almost frozen galactic beings, and have fun with this within reasonable scientific parameters.


This post was hard to write because there were so many diversions I wanted to take and expand upon, which, for brevity, I had to resist.  Also, when I get carried away with the science then the humour tends to fall away too.  So I apologise for that.  I’m sure a bit later, when I revise some of these posts, some humour will creep back in.

I hope readers will pick up on a few and write their own extensions.  For school science you can pick pretty much any part of this new Hulk mythology and run with it to imagine a lot more detail to the story.  Superstrings and nuclear life are however firmly in the realm of scifi, and might remain that way throughout time in our universe, but that does not mean you cannot use real physical laws and principles to write some amazing scifi fantasy.

One place to begin learning about the superstring type “super-springs” is Professor Leonard Susskind’s book The Black Hole Wars.  He uses the “spinning propellers on tips of propellers on tips of propellers … ad infinitum” analogy to describe string theory energetics.  Also, check out his freely available lectures on String Theory delivered at Stanford University. They can be downloaded from iTunes or from YouTube or directly from Stanford University online courses.  Susskind does an ok job of describing the analogies between superstring excitations and quark-gluon nuclear dynamics, which is the basis for my hulking theory.

Most physicists will know this part of the history of superstring theory.  The idea that nuclear forces involves string-like excitations arose from empirical data from nuclear energy data.  It turned out that quarks (which are what protons and neutrons are made out of) are indeed held together like tiny springs, and the biding force is mediated by gluons.  But when the theory of string excitations was worked out for a full-blown quantum theory it failed, because it predicted unseen excitations, unseen particles.  When it was realised that one of these unwanted particles had a spin=2, and if the strings were imagined to be billions and billions of times smaller than supposed from the quark-gluon interactions, then the idea of superstring theory was born.   The idea of Strings was abandoned as a theory for the nuclear forces, but became instead reborn as a fundamental theory of all forces of nature, not just the nuclear forces, and including the gravitational force.  this was a huge deal, because no one has since found any better quantum version of gravity.  So the unwanted nuclear scale spin=2 particle  was reinterpreted as the highly desirable gravtiton, the hypothetical carrier of the (quantum version) of the force of gravity.

The “spinning propellers on tips of propellers on tips of propellers … ad infinitum” model relates to superstring excitations.  The basic idea is that experimental physics can only probe up to certain energies, currently this is around a trillion electronvolts.  Any higher energetic physical processes involving single particles lies beyond current experimental technology.  But physicists, and their engineering colleagues, are always trying to extend these boundaries. The problem with superstring thery is that the smallest energy excitations of superstrings are like spinning propellers on the tips of large slow propellers, and the smallest interesting energetics are frustratingly  beyond current experimental limits.

Aha!  But for scifi that gives us a lot of “wiggle room” for imagining exotic physics.  And this is something like what I’m proposing happens with Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  His body is utilising extreme stringy energetics, deep within his atomic nuclei.

To “experimentally see” all the excitations of superstrings is like trying to see a fast spinning propeller on the tip of a bigger propeller which is spinning slowly.  Only with fundamental strings (of the kind physicists imagine matter is truly composed from) we would be needing to look at tinier propellers spinning ultrafast on the tips of the tiny propellers.  And in string theory there are even tinier propellers spinning on the tips of those tiny propellers, and so on, down in scale to all orders.

The smaller the propeller the faster it spins.  The faster it spins the more energetic is is, and the harder to detect, since it’s motion will be so blurred it will seem invisible.  For superstring theory, with the superstrings modelled as the spinning propellers, each single fundamental string being one propeller with all of it’s sub-propellers on the tips, this implies that all foreseeable experiments would not be able to detect more than a blur in the motion of the lowest energy excitations or largest visible tip “propellers”.

The model of stringy-interactions for nuclear physics is actually still very useful.  But it has become an approximate theory, or a rough model, not an exact theory.  When the string theory is miniaturised to the Planck scale (a billion-billion times  smaller than the nuclear scale) and a certain type of symmetry is included in the physics (implying the existence of so-called super-partner particles for every known particle in nature) then the nuclear String theory morphs naturally into modern Superstring Theory.

Superstring theory has big problems though, one of which is that the length and time and energy scales involved in studying superstrings is far, far beyond current experiments.  So physicists cannot really study superstrings with experiments, it is currently studied only mathematically, which is a great weakness for the theory, since no one can tell which branches of the mathematics to explore, and superstrings seem to allow so many mathematical options.  It has become a thorny minefield of theoretical physics and is in desperate need of experimental supporting evidence (or contrary evidence, since for healthy science practice one should never have emotional hopes for a theory).

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