Superhero talk takes flight

Neurobiologist Paul Zehr will speak at Okanagan College in Vernon Saturday.

Having the power, agility and speed of the world’s greatest superheroes may seem like it can only happen in comic books, but according to neurobiologist Paul Zehr, it is possible.

“Neither Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark is endowed with any special gifts,” said Zehr, who will speak at Okanagan College in Vernon Saturday.

It’s through dedicated training and technology that they are able to exhibit the superhuman abilities of Batman and Iron Man respectively.

“My day job is the study of the neural control of human movement, but for the past three decades, I have also trained in martial arts,” he said.

“I first became interested in kinesiology and neuroscience because I marveled (and still do) at how crazily complicated it must be for the body to do all the things it can do.”

Zehr’s work as professor and head of the Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Victoria has focused on the recovery of walking after stroke and spinal cord injury, but he has found that extremely high-level performance, such as training to become Batman and rehabilitation to improve walking, are just different points on a continuum of performance.

Learn more about Zehr’s research during his talk, “Is there a superhero in you?” Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the lecture theatre at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus. The event is part of the Science and Society Speaker series and Vernon Winter Carnival.

Specifically, Zehr will use Batman and Iron Man to explore neuro-scientific concepts such as brain adaptations to skill training and motor learning; the biomechanics of martial arts training and combat; pathophysiology of concussion; neural plasticity associated with injury and training; brain remapping and phantom limbs; and the concepts of neuroprosthetics and brain-machine interfaces.

Zehr is passionate about the popularization of science using superheroes as foils for human achievement and ability.

An accomplished author, his recent pop-sci books include Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero and Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine.

ECW Press is publishing Zehr’s latest book, Project Batgirl: The Diary of a Teen Superhero, later this year.

Zehr has been featured on radio and television interviews around the world including NPR, CNN, CBC and CTV, and his articles and interviews on exercise, science and superheroes have appeared in Scientific American, Men’s Health and Maclean’s among others.

The Science in Society Speaker Series is a joint project by the Okanagan Science Centre and Okanagan College and is sponsored by the Pacific Inn and Suites, Cooper’s Foods, Starbucks Coffee Company and The Morning Star.

Admission is $7 in advance or $10 at the door. For advanced tickets, call the Okanagan Science Centre at 250-545-3644 or