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I'd like to justify a lightning man in my world, and I have a theory that by some sort of magic, his cells in the dermis (middle layer of the skin - okay, for simplicity, don't count hair) are able to attract, keep and "hand down" electrons.

Is it realistically possible? If not, what circumstances prevent it?

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This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

  • $\begingroup$ You mean like an eel? $\endgroup$ – Angelo Fuchs Jul 6 '16 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ @AngeloFuchs I don't know, how do they work. Somehow, I completely missed checking them out. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Jul 6 '16 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ I don't currently have time to write a proper answer, but you might want to look into them and self-answer (I'd love to read that!) - Electric Eeels can not themselves provide that much power for a 'lightning' but otoh you could handle that by saying that this person was genetically engineered (with CRISPR CAS 9 this is seriously hard-science) to have proper electricity cells. $\endgroup$ – Angelo Fuchs Jul 6 '16 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ The reason that all the electric animals in the real world (electric rays, knife fish, and as mentioned the electric eel) are aquatic is because water conducts electricity really well. Air conducts electricity really poorly. Otherwise you'd get electrocuted every time you walked near an electric socket! :-) So your electric man make have to touch people to give them a shock, rather than fire bolts of lightning at them. Or just say 'magic makes it happen'. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Jul 6 '16 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ Can you qualify what a "lightning man" can do? Actually doing anything within a few orders of magnitude of an actual lightning bolt is utterly impossible with any semblence of hard-science. Lightning bolts are absurdly powerful. For some sense of scale, the largest lighning-simulations we've created (for testing ligning strikes on power lines) is less than a tenth of a lightning strike, and it takes a massive building to manage that. However, if you focus on the actual abilities you want to play with, we might be able to give you usable numbers. For those. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 7 '16 at 4:34
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Simply put, the outer layers of 'skin', scales, etc. in all animals is evolved as an organ to defend the rest of the organism from external forces such as heat, cold, toxins, injury and such.
Although some organisms as Angelo pointed out have developed the ability to produce an electric current, all are aquatic ( where current is a very effective defense), and none can produce 'lightning' levels of voltage or current.
In the case of the Electric Eel, the organs that provide the current comprise the majority of the animals' body, not just a small section like the dermis. To directly answer your question, the human ( and others) dermis layer is not a particularly good conductor of electricity, and an extremely poor source of capacitive storage. Furthermore, the dermis is both too thin and too differentiated to be readily adaptable to a brand new biological task. Convincing skin to grow feathers or quills instead of hair is one matter, massive bio-electric organs, is another matter entirely

It has been said that 'sufficient technology is indistinguishable from magic', in the same sense, avoiding outright wand-waving 'magic', I suggest that a technologically advanced ( possibly Military) bio-electric augmentation ( sans gene therapy) would possibly provide desired effect without requiring whole new biologies, or a book of 'magic'.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi, Joe. Please take a moment to look at the requirements for the hard-science tag. It general requires scientific citations or similar evidence in an answer; I don't think your answer satisfies those criteria. You can edit it, though. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jul 6 '16 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the input - really, I was more trying to make the 'square peg' problem stand out. I'm not really a fan of any automagical wandwaving, and was hoping this might help him see a different path in creation... $\endgroup$ – Joe Jul 7 '16 at 1:11
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So as others have said, air is a poor conductor of electricity compared to water, and so you would need unrealistic levels of electricity to make this work.

Most super powers are essentially magic without the label.

Say you had a man with electric eel organs that could generate electricity. Coming into physical contact would transfer the electricity, but you might be able to project it with a little added technology.

There's a DARPA project I read about a while back that uses a laser to ionize the air into a plasma, which acts like a conductor for electricity. Eel man could get a hold of a hand held/wrist mounted laser and create a channel to send his electricity down, reducing the amount of current needed.

This may not be enough for a hard science approach, but it does get it a little closer.

If you don't like the laser idea, it could be a conductive whip instead, which would work very much like a taser; Flick the whip out, send a lot of volts through it.

Edit: numbers

Electricity needs a lot of volts to arc through plain dry air; roughly 3 million volts per meter. This is the amount of power needed to ionize the air to allow the arc to jump. After that it does get a little easier, but probably not enough.

An electric eel is around 2 meters long, and 4/5ths of that is the electricity generating organs. It has an output of around 600-800 volts and 1 amp for 2 milliseconds. In dry air that would arc around 3mm. With poor ionized air you'd be able to extend that a little, but not throwing bolts across the room.

A few researchers are working on making artificial electrical generating cells to power things like pace makers, and they suggest that the efficiency could be boosted, but aren't publishing numbers.

A few possibilities:

  1. Make it plausible and fun and no one will care that it's not hard sci-fi.
  2. Make it artificial, like a powered suit with batteries and capacitors and experimental tech.
  3. Give him some kind of biological capacitors that are slowly charged by the eel cells until there have enough voltage to do what you want.
  4. Use the whip idea. 800v/1a for 2ms isn't enough to kill anyone, but it would hurt just like a stun gun, and the range is whatever length the conductor is.
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  • $\begingroup$ Hi, Andy. Please take a moment to look at the requirements for the hard-science tag. It general requires scientific citations or similar evidence in an answer; I don't think your answer satisfies those criteria. You can edit it, though. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jul 6 '16 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 alright added a little more detail. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jul 7 '16 at 3:39

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