E. Paul Zehr
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E. Paul Zehr (born June 16, 1968) is a Canadian professor of kinesiology and neuroscience, and an award-winning science communicator at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada. He is well known for his work in the neural control of human locomotion—particularly how the arms and legs interact during walking—and neural plasticity associated with exercise training and rehabilitation. Zehr is best known to the general public as the author of the popular science books Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero (2008), Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine (2011), and Project Superhero (2014).
Becoming Batman addresses the scientific feasibility of a human being ever achieving peak of performance embodied by the Caped Crusader, and is essentially a guide for understanding how the human body works and responds to exercise. Zehr, a long-time reader of comic books, drew on the combined expertise gained in undergraduate (BPE, McMaster University) and graduate (MSc) training in kinesiology with his knowledge of neuroscience (PhD; University of Alberta) and his more than 25 years of personal experience in martial arts. A main point of Zehr’s book is that despite all the technology and gadgetry, there is a real person inside the batsuit who needs extreme training. Zehr often points out that this training includes not just Batman’s muscles but also his bones.
Inventing Iron Man
Inventing Iron Man examines the Marvel superhero as a biological control problem. The book explores what it would mean to the human body, and the nervous system particularly, to use an integrated exoskeleton like the Iron Man suit of armor. Inventing Iron Man explores deeply the concept of brain-machine interface and develops the thesis that such an exoskeleton could only work if it were connected directly to the brain of the user. A main focus are the changes that would occur in the nervous system (neural plasticity) as a result of prolonged use of such a comprehensive neuroprosthetic.
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Project Superhero follows Jessie, a 13-year-old girl, and her diary as she documents a year-long school project called the Superhero Slam. Unlike his previous books, Zehr wrote Project Superhero with a middle school aged audience in mind, aiming specifically at girls. Where he previously used superheroes as a means for relaying scientific research and queries surrounding human physiology, he wanted to look at what “superheroes represent in our culture as seen through Jessie’s eyes”. Zehr interviewed real life heroes that provide Jessie with expert advice, including: Mike Bruen, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Clara Hughes, Bryan Q. Miller, Christie Nicholson, Yuriko Romer, Nicole Stott, Jessica Watson, and Hayley Wickenheiser.
Illustrations were provided by Kris Pearn, known for work such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
In 2015, Project Superhero was awarded a silver medal in Juvenile Fiction by the IPPY Awards.
- 2015 Science Educator Award. The Society of Neuroscience (SFN), supported by The Dana Foundation. This award honors two outstanding neuroscientists who have made significant contributions to educating the public about neuroscience: one who conducts education activities full-time, and one who devotes his/her time primarily to research while conducting outreach, policy and education activities.
- 2015 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Silver Medalist for Juvenile Fiction – Project Superhero
- 2012 Craigdarroch Research Award, Award for Excellence in Knowledge Mobilization, University of Victoria,Victoria, BC,Canada. This award recognizes a specific project, product, service or body of work that demonstrates excellence in Knowledge Mobilization (KM), defined as the purposeful communication, exchange and application of knowledge developed through an ongoing process of research and/or creative and artistic endeavour for the benefit of society.
Popular science writing
- Psychology Today – Black Belt Brain
- Scientific American – Stories by E. Paul Zehr
- Discovery Magazine
- Digital Journal
- Why we need superheroes, 49th Shelf.
- Who--or what--is Iron Man really?, May 3, 2013, Psychology Today
- Iron Man, Extremis, and Tissue Engineering, Guest Informant at www.warrenellis.com, April 24, 2013.
- The Avengers—Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Have Something For Everyone. Johns Hopkins University Press Blog, May 2, 2012.
- Holy Concussive Incident, Batman! The Science and Entertainment Exchange Guest Blog Dec 2, 2009
- Let’s Build a Better Brain, Johns Hopkins University Press Blog, April 11, 2012.
- Let’s Build a Better Brain, warrenellis.com, Guest Informant, April 2, 2012.
Editorials and freelance
- Using superheroes to spark girls' interest in science. MSFHR Spark Blog.
- Science writers can help raise knowledge, Op-Ed for the Globe and Mail.
- Batman and beyond: Using the middle-ground to communicate complex ideas, MSFHR Spark Blo g
- Becoming Iron Man. Discovery Magazine Special Issue “The Brain”.
- Batman, Iron Man and Me. The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 5, 2011.
- Super heroes? Super science. Op-Editorial published in The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va, April 25, 2010
Events and appearances
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- "INSPIRE--Toronto International Book Fair", Saturday November 14, 2014 with Kris Pearn on the TD Children's Stage
- Algoma Fall Festival "A Novel Dinner", Algoma's Water Tower Inn & Suites, October 18, 2014
- Algoma Fall Festival "Festival of Learning", October 16 & 17, 2014
- Cafe Scientifique "Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger--Are Stem Cells The Answer?", Hard Rock Cafe, Toronto, October 2, 2014
- "Is There A Superhero in You?" in the Science in Society Speakers Series, Okanagan Science Centre, Vernon, BC, February 15, 2014
- Be Inspired: Science & Superheroes at The Waterfall Building, W 2nd Avenue, Vancouver, BC, Tuesday December 3, 2013
- Science of Superheroes at the Celebrate Science Conference, University of British Columbia Biodiversity Museum, October 26, 2013
- Superhero Science at the Catalyst Conference for BC Science Teachers, HJ Cambie Secondary School, Richmond, BC, October 25, 2013
- "Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Stranger: The Science of Hollywood Superheroes", presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (Science and Technology Council), Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Beverly Hills, CA, August 15, 2012
- "The Superhero in You", TEDx Edmonton "Ideas Worth Spreading", June 9, 2012, Edmonton AB
- 2012 TEDx Edmonton
- "Batman, Iron Man, and a bit of Biomechanics", public talk at the Canadian Society for Biomechanics, June 8, 2012, Vancouver BC
- "Two superheroes walk into a bar and order coffee--engaging the public in science" keynote lecture for general public communications in "How to Talk About Science" at UVIC May 27, 2012.
- “Iron Man, Robopocalypse and the Future of Humanity” (with Daniel H. Wilson, author Robopocalypse), Wonder Con 2012
- “Everything I Really Need to Know, I Learned from Batman and Bart, Man: Embiggening Brains without Crayon Implants”, Wonder Con 2012
- “Batman Vs. Iron Man: Can Biology Best Technology?” at Wonder Con, Anaheim CA, March 16–18, 2012
- "Can Batman and Iron Man Teach Neuroscience?" in symposium "Slipping science into the mainstream using pop-culture icons", AAAS Meeting, Vancouver BC, February 18, 2012.
- Panel "Batman vs. Iron Man: Can a person truly become either one?", New York Comic Con, October 15, 2:30-3:30
- UVIC Alumni Event "Is there a superhero in you?" October 20, 5:30-8:30, Strathcona Hotel
- "Inventing Iron Man" Book launch, talk, and signing, October 25, 3:30-5:30, UVIC Library
- Freshminds Symposium, Bob Wright Building, UVIC, November 9, 2:30-3:30 PM
- "NPR: Neural research links legs, arms". Vancouver Sun. February 20, 2007. Retrieved September 15, 2009.
- "NPR: Dark Knight Shift: Why Batman Could Exist--But Not for Long". Scientific American. July 14, 2009. Retrieved September 15, 2009.
- "NPR: CBC Quirks & Quarks interview with Bob MacDonald". CBC Radio. December 20, 2008. Archived from the original (mp3 & ogg media) on December 24, 2008. Retrieved September 15, 2009.
- "NPR: Inquiry: E. Paul Zehr : Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero" (mp3). WICN public radio. September 14, 2009. Retrieved September 15, 2009.
- "NPR: Holy Research Batman! What I did in Superhero school". Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. January 2, 2009. Retrieved September 15, 2009.
- "NPR: E.Paul Zehr: Why We Need Superheroes". 49th Shelf. September 18, 2014. Retrieved June 24, 2015.