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I'm writing a novel in which one of the characters has the ability to control, manipulate, and produce electricity. I'm having issues working about scenes which require him to fly around without sounding exactly like the DC superhero Static. (It was used as just a filler until I could think of something else, but now I can't think of something else.) I don't want him to just have an additional power of flight, however, as I have scenes in which he is debilitated and can't fly around. (Using the "Static" example, it would be like removing the disk he flies around on.)

I'm also open to hearing name suggestions for this superhero alter-ego.

Any help would be super appreciated! <3

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    $\begingroup$ He has electrical powers. Why is this difficult? $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 23 '15 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ Electrical can induce magnetic fields...are you looking for purely electrical flight, or can the hero make us of magnetic fields his electrical charges make? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 23 '15 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ Aww, no need for the sass @KSmarts :P I appreciate the link though, looking through it now! :) $\endgroup$ – unimaginativewriter Feb 23 '15 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ @unimaginativewriter See you in a few days. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 23 '15 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth Unfortunately I haven't worked out all the logistics of the powers, but reading these comments has got my brain churning already. I'm not really too picky, this flight aspect is not massively pertinent to the story as a whole, just a tiny piece of it, so honestly I should be able to make almost whatever work. $\endgroup$ – unimaginativewriter Feb 23 '15 at 22:50
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The name comes from the superpower

Firstly, I suggest making the superpower less ambiguous. Just say he can create/manipulate electrical charge. Working from there, you can make up mechanisms on how certain things are achieved using that specific power, this will make your story more thought out, consistent, and certainly more satisfying to electrical engineers like me.

You can name him Charge.

How to use it

Now, to use charge or charge flow (current) to fly, there are lots of ways to do that and some may work better depending on the conditions.

For instance, if there is a conductive flooring he can generate magnetic fields (by rapidly moving charge back and forth). This will produce an opposing magnetic field in the conductive surface via eddy currents (the currents themselves are generated from the original magnetic field). This is how the real-life Hendo Hoverboard works. He would likely use this method to glide around his apartment without generating ion wind.

Where a conductive substrate is not available electrostatic levitation is another option, as pointed out by Dan Smolinske. This only requires that charge be concentrated on himself and nearby objects. You can see a small scale example of this with two balloons repelling each other. Again, this provides a small amount of force normally, but could be feasible. Most likely he would use this to statically levitate objects (sounds like a nice way to sleep).

While still in the atmosphere, electrohydrodynamic thrust can be generated to provide lift (used by devices like the ionocraft, as linked by user3082). However, since he can manipulate charge directly, there is no need to have an apparatus for making ions, he can just add charge to molecules directly. Adding a concentrated opposite charge some distance away will act as a collector for the charged particles. Its position relative to the average center of the ions will define the thrust vector. As the ions move to the collector, they bump into uncharged air and generate force perpendicular to ion flow. The force it produces is:

$$F = {{Id}\over{k}}$$ $F$ is the resulting force, in Newtons

$I$ is the current flow of electric current, in coulombs per second (charge flow rate, this is the ions flowing to the collector).

$d$ is the air gap distance between the ions and the collector, in meters.

$k$ is the ion mobility coefficient of air, in inverse teslas (Nominal value $2\times10^{−4}$ $T^{-1}$).

So, if your hero weights 800N, and you have a quarter meter air gap (a large gap might be required to avoid dielectric breakdown), you need to have 640 mC/s flowing. This is just to hover. Add more flow for more force. Changing the position of the point collector will change the direction of thrust. There will be a lot of wind coming off of him, don't use this in places where someone is building a cardhouse.

enter image description here

Basically, by distributing the ionization surface and creating a point collector, it will look similar to a hall thruster.

enter image description here

There are more options if you allow him technological aid. He can control charge and manipulate it, basically, he can power any electrical device. This is essentially Iron Man's power, because of his Arc Reactor he can power everything on his suit.

The biggest drawback to most electrical forms of propulsion is storing the energy to run them. But your hero can have electrically powered jet engines or a suit with motorized propellers that are powered by him directly.

How to break it

To disable eddy current hovering, the conductive material needs to be negated. If its broken up or has its resistance increased it will be less effective.

Electrostatic levitation is kind of a landmine. Adding a significant amount of charge to something means it's waiting there, desperate to get rid of that charge. Think about the shock you get from a door handle as your body discharges into it. It's incredibly significantly worse than that. So, to break this, just give the object a low resistance path to an uncharged (or oppositely charged) object. Some fine conductive thread can short out hovering items.

Breaking electrohydrodynamic thrust can be done by adding conductive material to the air. This would short out the field between the opposing charges. For instance, the super (or regular) villain could launch some chaff at the hero in flight and mess him up pretty badly. Alternatively the air can be removed, but the hero will probably have other problems in that case.

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  • $\begingroup$ Aw man, thank you so much! I really appreciate all the information, super super helpful :) Love the name suggestion too! <3 $\endgroup$ – unimaginativewriter Feb 24 '15 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ @unimaginativewriter I was going to suggest a name, too, but then I realized Shocker was already taken, from before it had its current slang meaning. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 24 '15 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ Hendo: so he can only fly a few inches in altitude whike over a non-ferris conductor, using as much power as a regular quadcopter would to fly freely? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Dec 29 '16 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz While weighing significantly more, yeah, that's the idea. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 29 '16 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ a laser might also work to break electrostatic hovering or this. A laser of sufficient power creates an Ion channel similar to the conduction channel of lightnings. This might also work for the other propulsion abilities. $\endgroup$ – Doomed Mind Mar 14 '17 at 11:22
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So your superhero can produce electricity. What about using lightning for flight?

You can write it so that his powers cause tiny explosions under him (or in any location opposite to which he needs propulsion) - by ionizing (giving an electrical charge to the oxygen via creating strong electrical fields) small amounts of air near him, touching said air can result in a discharge produces explosion(s), with which come shockwaves (which can be used for propulsion), heat (self warming? Maybe he should have a really nice suit to protect him from it) and really loud sounds. Thunder loud.

As to scenes where he can't fly - If he's dizzy, drugged, or too sleepy, etc, he can't accurately ionize the correct particles of air, resulting in the process being very dangerous and not feasible for said superhero.

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Eletricity and magnetism are intimately linked.

So you can make him fly via diamagnetism :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamagnetism

To sum it up :

Make eletrical charges spin around the hero. This will generate a magnetic field. If you carefully select the way the electrical charges rotate, you can direct the magnetic field generated. If you direct that magnetic field torwards substances that show diamagnetism, the diamagnetic materials will react generating a magnetic field oposite to the one the hero is generating. This will cause the hero to fly away from the object.

Most materials are diamagnetic, but usually by a very small ammount. So you will need really big magnetic fields to cause lift off. On the oposite, you have ferromagnetic materials, like building structures (steel), cars etc.

You can attract those instead of repealing them. One prime example of diamagnetic material is water. Using this method, your hero can fly over water quite easily, because water is a good diamagnetic material. When you see a frog being suspended via magnetic levitation, its the diamagnetism of water that is in effect there. You have a source of magnetic field below the frog, and being made of a lot of water, the frog reacts by literally flying.

So, a third option (besides diamagnetism in the materials nearby the hero, or ferromagnetism) would be to generate a powerfull source of magnetism below the hero to cause it to lift off just like the frogs in such experiments:
electromagnets and frog
(Original source: http://www.rare-earth-magnets.com/images/frog.jpg)

Now, imagine that your superhero can make electrical charges rotate in a circle below the superhero (Acting like a electromagnet without the wires and the weight). This will generate a magnetic field. The superhero is composed of mostly water (just like the frog), he is lifted a little. Now he generates the same efect below him, but a little above where he done this before (because he was lifted off by a small ammount). He lifts a little big higher, and so on. If done quickly, this can lift your hero towards any heigth.

A side effect (that can be explored in your stories) is that this magnetic field might very well attract ferromagnetic materials nearby. Imagine your hero happyly flying above water. Accidentally he overflies a underwater submerine. Now imagine how the crew would be confused if they find themselves above water out of the blue (literally)...

  • Skipper ! We are raising !!
  • Wtf is that ?
  • OMG we are out of water !

"Clamp !" - Sound of metal hitting a magnet.

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Or, he can make himself into an Ionocraft

But, where's his power coming from? Because these are fairly inefficient (ie: they say they can't carry their own power-sources).

Since you're open to suggestions, I think he needs to be directly transforming matter into energy (then harnessing it with 100% efficiency). That will give him enough energy to do some major things with, while not requiring him to eat too much (although he'll probably eat more than normal).

Otherwise, you'd have to be grabbing power from the environment, which may impose other limits. If he's doing that, he'll want to be based in Florida.

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  • $\begingroup$ I had never heard of that, thanks for sharing :) Lots to consider. I hadn't worked out the kinks of his abilities just yet, trying to tackle one thing at a time, but I'm totally open for suggestions. $\endgroup$ – unimaginativewriter Feb 23 '15 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, writers for superheros tend to leave out the energy aspect of it. (Captain America is a fine example :P) But yes, I've definitely considered use of powers equaling to a drain of energy though I appreciate the reminder, I'm a very forgetful person. Florida, huh? Haha, I see what you did there ;) Not a bad idea though! $\endgroup$ – unimaginativewriter Feb 23 '15 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ If he's converting matter directly to energy, he won't need perfect efficiency, he'll have more than enough to be a little wasteful. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 23 '15 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ @samuel Yes, of course - but I like my superhumans vastly over-powered ;) Also, burning tons of energy flying - megawatts if not terawatts and above per second. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 23 '15 at 23:52
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Maybe he doesn't fly, but strikes like lightning? Or maybe there's some supernatural link between his powers and the positive / negative ions around?

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    $\begingroup$ So the superhero flashes from place to place like lightning and strikes while the ions are hot. Welcome to Worldbuilding, ilivenicely, an inventive answer, but it needs improving. Answers here need to facts, information and reasons to back them up. Don't worry it takes time to get up to speed here. But it's worth it. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – a4android Mar 14 '17 at 11:04
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Compact Electrical Devices

Your character produces electricity, which means that he/she doesn't need to worry about power packs for any kinds of device they use, making it more compact.

Anything from the traditional flight pack/boots/gloves you can simply strap on, power up, and go - just add electricity ;)

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What about metal armor panels in his costume, that he lifts? True it is a little like Static. But it also provides him a level of defense against nonconductive, nonmagnetic attacks. Like ceramic knives or rubber bullets.

Say put a couple of plates over his torso, front and back. And then wrist and ankle guards.

As an additional advantage, he could also control the wrist guards to add speed and impact to his punches.

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