The current issue of Nature magazine, dated July 19, 2012, features in its Books and Arts section an article I wrote about the TV series Alphas. (Note: those links lead to a paywall required to access the story, but for those without access, Nature is pretty well stocked by libraries.) The second season of Alphas begins airing on the Syfy network in the U.S. this evening, July 23. The piece is a Q&A with the series’ new showrunner, Bruce Miller (also of such shows as Eureka and ER); I was interested in discussing with him the scientific basis for the various powers that are explored in the show, from the synaesthesia-like sensory awareness of Rachel Pirzad to the endorphin-infused strength of Bill Harkin to the ability of Gary Bell (pictured up top in the same image that accompanies the Nature piece) to sniff data from the air.
Part of the realism of Alphas has to do, simply, with the fact that the characters don’t think of themselves as superheroes; they think of themselves as misfits who are more burdened than blessed with these unusual abilities. Rooting that anxiety is the show’s writers’ attempts to only depict powers that can be extrapolated from natural sciences. Thus, there is — at least so far — no time travel or, say, long-distance teleportation. Sound, of course, is among the numerous areas of scientific study that inform Alphas. Last season there was a blind man with dolphin-like sonar powers; he was played by Star Trek’s Data, aka Brent Spiner. This season, Miller explained, there will be at least one more audio-based storyline, one in which “infrasound” — those sounds considered to be below the spectrum perceived by humans — plays a role. He told me more than appears in the Nature story but if I’d written much more, it would have given away the episode.