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Sometimes you just want to have a dragon, giant scorpion or a superhuman that has a bit more realism behind it than "it's strong, fast, can jump extreme distances despite it's weight and it's smart, deal with it". The original question(s) were far too broad for a single post, so I'm making a series of posts about things like skeleton, muscles, nerves, immune system and more to try and get an answer on how to build some of the best but still scientifically semi-realistic creatures. My personal question mostly aims at a humanoid super-soldier, but I expect that most of the idea's would be useable in other creatures as well.

For completeness, here's a list of things that I think such a soldier needs to adhere to:

  • Uses biological components to function
  • Can regenerate wounds without needing to be brought to a certain facility for repairs (but if available they would use it). Regeneration does not have to be 100% successful, as long as they can continue at a high % of their original functionality it's OK.
  • Can survive on food when necessary.
  • Has ways to reduce the effects of radiation, both cosmological and from weapons (like a robot that's holding a Paricle Beam in close quarters).
  • Can survive short periods out in space, preferably in a damaged space suit but naked if necessary.
  • Has protection against extreme heat (lasers, Plasma, Particle Beams) and extreme cold (space, liquid nitrogen and other cold stuff weapons)
  • When necessary, can still reproduce normally.
  • Can survive breathing toxic air for extended periods of time (not very good on the details of what "toxic" is right there)
  • Has a resistance to small-arms fire, either through protection and/or being able to keep going regardless of damage
  • Can withstand immense amounts of recoil forces.

The goal of this post is to come up with idea's for the skeleton, what materials it needs to be build of, what shape it would be and how easy it would be to repair and maintain.

My personal take on this part is as follows:

Materials: Graphene, Carbon Nanotubes (CNT's).

Graphene seems like a perfect fit for a skeleton. It's Carbon-based like most of the body's structure (that isn't water), it's incredibly strong but it's not extremely brittle and it's lightweight. Any alternative functions that normal bone would do and Graphene couldn't would be taken over by bony calcium deposits.

Repairs and checks on how the Graphene bone is currently doing can be done by systems already in existance: Currently the body uses electric potentials to check how much stress a bone receives and then uses that feedback to strengthen or weaken the bone locally, this same process could be used to check for damage to the Graphene structure and have repair cells be activated/attracted to such area's.

Another advantage pointed out by Nick: Graphene can conduct electricity extremely well. When using an exo-skeleton you can make the person highly resistant to electrical attacks as the exo-skeleton would conduct the electricity into the ground without the surrounding tissue receiving much of the punishment.

Disadvantages could be that Graphene is a single molecule thick to gain it's properties, so you would need to have many many layers of graphene that aren't attached to one another to build the bones out of. Another possible problem is that the cells wouldn't be able to create a full-scale graphene layer and would only be able to build small portions of Graphene that has to be connected without being a single large molecule. An alternative is to roll up the Graphene into CNT's and put those into another material, like normal bone. There's a perfect size for these rolled up nanotubes that gives the best strength properties, and there's room enough to insert another smaller CNT inside for extra strength.

One big advantage is that you can vary the amount of Graphene or CNT's to give different strengths, in case you don't want people running around with skeletons 5x stronger than steel using 3D Graphene (just found out it exists: https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/09/mits-3d-graphene-is-ten-times-stronger-than-steel/), or even 300 times stronger than steel(http://theconversation.com/harder-than-diamond-stronger-than-steel-super-conductor-graphenes-unreal-5123)

Shape:

For the shape I would use both an endo-skeleton combined with an exo-skeleton. With the weight issue's removed due to the skeletons strength and light weight, having an exo-skeleton won't make you collapse under your own weight. The addition of an endo-skeleton would help support the body especially in case the exo-skeleton is damaged and offer extra places for muscle attachments. The exo-skeleton would also serve as a perfect shield against incoming harm, with a single millimeter thick exo-skeleton possibly counting as 5 to 300 mm of steel.

To increase sensitivity, speed of repairs to damage and make it looking more like a humanoid rather than a humanoid crab, a layer of skin would still cover the exo-skeleton. This way damage on the outside of the exo-skeleton can be repaired more easily and the being has an easier time feeling his surroundings with a normal skin layer (don't worry we'll get to upgrading the skin to super-human status as well).

The biggest questions that remain for the Graphene for skeleton idea: Isn't Graphene too flexible? Does it need a material beneath it or through it to provide strength?

Can the body acquire enough Carbon and energy to form Graphene in large enough quantities to repair and maintain the body?

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closed as too broad by StephenG, Mołot, Frostfyre, sphennings, Palarran Mar 6 '18 at 17:33

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this may be too broad, as you're asking sixteen (admittedly related) questions instead of just one. I'd consider breaking this up into multiple separate questions - not necessarily sixteen, but certainly more than one. It's a good question, but it feels very long. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Mar 6 '18 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I realized this as I made the post, but I don't see how you can break up the soldier's components without losing something. Many parts rely on eachother. Spidersilk tendons for example vastly changes in strength and capability when formed around an exoskeleton, making space for redundancy organs depends on the exoskeletons thickness, how well it protects (allowing organs closer to the surface) etc. If necessary I'll try and create different threads for different overarching themes. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Mar 6 '18 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough. One other thing, what tech level are you going for here? Far-future, I'm assuming? $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Mar 6 '18 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like several of these topics have already been covered on the site. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 6 '18 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ You need to split your question; this is way too many points for a single question, and this is likely going to get closed as too broad because of it. Search around for other questions that ask about any of those points, as I'm certain that at least some have come up before, and then ask separate questions for whatever is left. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Mar 6 '18 at 17:33
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So this is a big question but it seems like the heart of if is that you want something that is human but just better, so let’s try to break it down system by system.

Skin: Graphene, full stop. In fact you’ll find me answering that for a lot of these questions. More to the point, graphene is incredibly strong, very hard to pierce, and a hundred layers is still incredibly thin. It also has the bonus of being made of carbon. I’m not sure how feasible it is to have this grow naturally, but since you’re making these guys just 3D print layers of graphene to go just under their skin. This provides protection from small arms fire, knives, and pretty much anything that would penetrate the body. It would also help with electrical resistance. But graphene is a conductor (you say as you read this)!? Exactly! An insulator absorbs the energy from the electrical current, which then turns into heat and at high wattage this results in a melted insulator. A graphene layer, on the other hand, could conduct the current across the plates and into the ground, resulting in only minor surface damage to your super soldier.

Respiratory and Circulatory: These really need to be lumped together, because even though it is two different systems their functions overlap so much. Here is also where you’ll run into a few issues. First off super soldier means super oxygen requirements and super waste generation. This means that during intense activity blood pressure will have to reach levels much higher than those of a normal human in order to deliver oxygen to the muscles and take CO2 away. The lungs will have to be quite a bit larger, as will the heart. Yes I know, you thought about taking it away, but that will create more problems than it solves. Look at nature, active predators have at least one heart, and in the case of squid they have three, one main heart and one for each gill. So what you need here is a very large, very powerful heart that can pump blood at immense pressures through the body when needed. You’ll also need much more robust arteries. The vessel walls will need to be thicker and more muscular, and the exterior could be coated in very elastic fibers, like collagen, to help support the vessels. Nanobots are definitely your friend here, as you can have specialized versions that carry extra oxygen and CO2, activate stem cells, repair damage, and fight off foreign bodies. A side effect here is that your soldier will create much more heat than normal, so they will need lots of surface capillaries near the skin so they can cool themselves. Better bring plenty of water for those tropical environments.

Muscles: So it might not seem like it, but most of the time what limits a human’s muscle strength is the strength of the connective tissue like the tendons. So I think using some sort of spider silk type substance for tendons and ligaments is your best bet here. As for the muscles themselves, I think that they have a similar solution as the nerve cells, a literal silver lining. Silver is an excellent conductor of electricity, and if the conductive fibers of muscle cells, and parts of the nerve cells for that matter, had trace amounts of sliver that could increase their conductivity and result in less waste. In addition, more support from a stronger skeleton and connective tissue, more nerve enervation, a better blood supply, and genetics for good muscle growth would vastly increase the strength of your soldiers. Finally, your soldiers could be trained on using what I call muscle chains. It’s a concept in martial arts where you tense and relax muscles in certain places all over the body to increase your strength. This concept is what allows boxers to throw such devastating punches, and how Bruce Lee could kick holes in heavy bags.

Nervous system: So the silver lining that I mention previously could help with increase the conductivity of the nerve cells. However no matter how much you increase the electrical conduction, you have to remember that one nerve cell communicates with another via neurotransmitters, and these chemicals are vital to a human’s mental and emotional health. So you can’t get rid of them, because depressed, possibly suicidal super soldiers would be very bad. However, more nerves and more pathways, in both the central and peripheral nervous systems will increase intelligence, speed, and reaction time. One thing you may have overlooked, and this is pretty cool, is that you can make combat much faster and more efficient by essentially automating it. Again, this is something that happens in martial arts, and the term in English is “no mind.” What happens is you are able to move and react without any conscious thought about it, so your body will avoid getting hit, and for very experienced martial artists, hit back, without any conscious input. I can tell you from experience that someone who can do this is at a massive advantage against someone who can’t. So make combat reflexive. You’re spinal cord can send messages to your muscles for certain reflexive actions instead of your brain, so have it tell your super soldiers to dodge that punch and follow up with a boot to the face!

Bones: Graphene. There it is again. Roll it up into tubes, which is basically carbon nano-tubes, and have it support the bone structure. Notice I didn’t say replace! The bones serve about a bajillion functions in the human body, including storing and releasing vital nutrients like calcium, so you cannot replace the bones, but you can support them and thus vastly increase their strength. The nanobots will come in here as well, enabling the bones to automatically set if broken, and speed up the healing process. BEWARE! Every time you speed up any process in the body you will vastly increase the heat output so you need a way to deal with that or your super soldier will cook themselves.

Digestive system and other organs: When we do something physically exerting, our bodies already pull most of the resources away from our digestive system, so you can design your soldiers in such a way as to make their digestive systems more efficient, likely using those nanobots again, and as such the minimum oxygen requirements for those organs will be lower. You won’t be able to shrink them too much, as they are already pretty compact, unless you want your super soldiers to live on IV diets. Your other stuff like the reproductive organs won’t really require any changes as far as I can tell.

As some final notes. A human being can already survive in space for a surprising amount of time, much longer than most movies would have you believe. So with the graphite skin layer, extreme heat generation, and nanobot support, your soldiers could easily increase that time. Also remember that in order to power these changes you will need a much higher metabolism which means that the soldiers will need a very high calorie intake every day. Their bodies could be made to go into a type of hibernation so that they can survive for long periods of time without nutrients, but they won’t be doing much in that state. I would also say that these soldiers should be relatively normal size, 5’10” to 6’6” and keep their weight between 170 and 250 lbs. There is a reason why most humans fall into that size range, and that’s doubly important for your soldiers. Too small means they are easy to throw around, have limited leverage, loose heat too quickly, and have less mass to absorb impact. Too big and they lose agility, speed, and endurance, they’ll be prone to overheating, and they’re a much larger target. I would also recommend that they have a decent layer of subcutaneous fat under their skin, so they probably won’t have washboard abs. This layer of fat will absorb impact, provide extra protection from cuts, and most importantly, be a wonderful source of energy. Your soldiers will actually need a substantial amount of fat now that I think about it, as it is the best source of energy that the human body metabolizes. So their body fat percentage will need to be somewhere between 10 and 20 percent at least. If you want to look into some more exotic materials to upgrade your soldiers, I’d suggest looking into aggregated diamond nanorod, which is the hardest material I know of. However I don’t know enough about it to speculate how it could be used in this fashion, but maybe you could come up with something! I know I missed some stuff that you mentioned, such as the magnetic field thing, but I have a feeling that a natural magnetic field strong enough to deflect radiation could cause your soldier a lot more problems than it would prevent.

Also congratulations, you just made me post the longest answer I ever have and I did it from a phone! Great questions, and if I missed something important let me know and I’ll try to go back and squeeze an answer in here somehow!

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm about to edit my first post to only have bone structure, and create a large amount of other threads (over time in an attempt not to spam this forum) to try and come up with a complete answer for my question. Thanks for your input so far. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Mar 16 '18 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ Wanna add that carbon nanotubes in certain forms have superconductivity. As well as when filled with a material with high coefficient of expansion (wax was tested, might've been carbon fiber) can achieve high ratios of force/weight when high voltage is applied. 100:1 for carbon nanotube to human muscle. You can only use 10% of the nanotube's total power to keep it on the elastic point of the stress-strain curve. So 10:1 normally. Only problem is converting supplied impulses into high-voltage ones. $\endgroup$ – Black Mar 20 '18 at 4:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Black well that and making sure you have no leakage of that current. No matter how super the soldier is, eventually he’ll fry if he gets hit with too much electricity. Definitely a cool idea worth exploring though. $\endgroup$ – Nick Mar 20 '18 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ I think you only needed enough current to melt the wax, but you needed enough voltage to make the spreading of the tubes efficient. higher voltage = higher percentage efficiency (you need to be able to handle it AND total wattage needs to not cook your device). 1 N/m/s per watt is 100% efficiency. I don't know how close you can get to that with increased voltage. I believe they were testing in the 1-10kV range off the top of my head. $\endgroup$ – Black Mar 20 '18 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_nanotube_actuators seems to point to other tech. But the basic material remains my personal favorite simply because of weight/load ratios. If you get the weight of your super soldier low enough and materials strong enough you could fall from any height you wanted which increases tactical options $\endgroup$ – Black Mar 20 '18 at 21:15
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You want a cockroach.

roach with tag https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/02/want-to-build-a-better-climbing-robot-copy-a-cockroach

Yes, cockroaches are not humanoid, but you are in space now and need to step outside of your humanoidocentric world view. Roaches can do nearly everything you want.

• Uses biological components to function

Yes.

Can regenerate wounds without needing to be brought to a certain facility for repairs (but if available they would use it).

Roaches can regenerate a leg. They regenerate their whole cuticle with each molt. They cannot regenerate a head but they can do without the head for a week or more. Punctures of the cuticle are problematic but if there were a field patch a comrade could apply (or the roaches wore self-sealing polymer armor) they would be good to go.

Can survive on food when necessary.

Oh yes.

Has ways to reduce the effects of radiation, both cosmological and from weapons.

Roaches are extremely resistant to ionizing radiation. A quick perusal of Youtube also shows that roaches do well against microwaves as well.

Can survive short periods out in space, preferably in a damaged space suit but naked if necessary.

Roaches can survive in a vacuum for surprisingly long

Has protection against extreme heat and extreme cold.

No luck here – freezing will kill roaches and cooking will kill roaches.

When necessary, can still reproduce normally.

Gladly.

Can survive breathing toxic air for extended periods of time.

Roaches are resistant to poison and can keep going for some time even after being exposed to a lethal dose. I know this from experience.

• Has a resistance to small-arms fire, either through protection and/or being able to keep going regardless of damage.

Peforating the cuticle will eventually dry out the roach, but it will keep going until it does. Loss of the head will make it hard to steer but roach will keep going.

• Can withstand immense amounts of recoil forces.

The roach exposes itself to 30g when it jumps. The determining factor for acceleration tolerance by an insect is the durability of the exoskeleton. A roach can withstand 900 times its own weight before being crushed, so 900g would crush it.

You should use regular roaches, maybe with polymer armor. Not big ones and not humanoid ones. They are bred to home in on things which might be targets and attack once there. How they attack is up to you. I think I might use them as suicide bombers: when they come into contact with the enemy the tiny explosive glued to them detonates.

Your cannon fodder ships can be filled with hundreds of millions of suicide warrior roaches. It doesn't matter if they can repair themselves, or if thousands of them die because there are hundreds of millions of them. They do not know morale. They do not know their comrades are dying or that they are dying, or that they are your soldiers, or that they are soldiers. They do what they instinctively do.

Also: roaches can fly.

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    $\begingroup$ Roach bombs... This is a really cool idea which I may use. Partially because it sounds terrifying. $\endgroup$ – Nick Mar 6 '18 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ There's a few problems with this suggestion, but I like the general idea. Roaches aren't humanoid. And however unlikely it is that humanoid structures remain in use in the future, we don't really identify with Droney the drone or a giant tentacled marine slug who managed to get into space. They are great side-characters that can have extreme human personality traits to create more elaborate stories and character interaction, but as the primary source of interaction they fall flat. I also would like to know what exactly makes Roaches so good, rather than a list of their properties. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Mar 16 '18 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan - you provided a list of criteria for goodness and so my answer speaks to that list. If I just put ROACHES ROCK HARD! and did not address your criteria that would not be much of an answer. But for completeness sake: ROACHES ROCK HARD!! $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 16 '18 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk for your answer to be truly of use, "like a cockroach" is lacking. As I mentioned the general idea is very nice as it gives an example of a creature that can meet almost all the criteria. But if you want to build a humanoid or other creature using "like a cockroach" you quickly run into problems. Larger creatures experience bloodloss different and wouldnt survive as well. The weight of the exo-skeleton quickly grows so large the creature collapses under its own weight. I dont dislike your answer, but I want more information on how the cockroach accomplishes his feats and how to use it. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Mar 16 '18 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan: you are correct again that roach powers do not scale up well, and that roaches accomplish these amazing feats via intrinsic roachlyness: decentralized nervous system, open circulation, toughness. You might achieve a humanoid with some of these qualities using a 4 limbed roach sized creature. It would be a very small humanoid. Might as well just stick with the roach. $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 20 '18 at 18:50

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