Two comic book writers who have created some of Marvel and DC Comics’ world famous characters have teamed up with the  University of Central Lancashire  (UCLan) for a superhero inspired project funded by the Academy’s Ingenious public engagement programme.

Andy Lanning and Anthony Williams have over the last 25 years illustrated and written The Avengers, Batman, Captain America, Superman, Iron Man and X-Men comics to name a few. Now they’ve used their talents to give UCLan a Gotham City style make-over and turned engineering lecturer Matt Dickinson into a superhero character as part of a national schools’ science competition.

Matt is the main character in the Hero Lab comic who is turned into two characters; superhero Mecha-man and super villain Doktor Darkness, after being struck by lightning while working in his lab. Primary school age children are being encouraged to create 10 new characters for the final story that will help the nemeses fight each other. The only requirement is that any super powers must be based in real-life science.

Computer aided engineering lecturer Matt commented: “We want to demonstrate the power of science and the impact it can have on everyday life; the sea cucumber for instance when completely severed will re-stitch itself like Wolverine’s healing capabilities.

“Relating science to magical super powers will allow us to share some really detailed information on a level that primary school children will not only understand but be inspired by.”

A team of engineers will also work on the project providing online materials that children can access as part of their research into what science fact rather than science fiction can be applied to the characters’ super powers.

Dr Jo Heaton-Marriott, Public Engagement Manager at UCLan, is co-ordinating the Hero Lab project and will also be included as a character in the comic book.

She said: “UCLan has a long history of community engagement. Through this latest project we hope to debunk stereotypes about engineering and show the breadth and depth of engineering research in the UK. The comic book will allow primary school children to explore cutting-edge research and fuel their imagination.”

Writer Andy Lanning said: “It’s an exciting concept to develop new characters grounded in real life engineering. Working with Matt and the team has been really insightful and has given us some fantastic ideas for Herolab; we are looking forward to seeing what the children come up with.”

To enter the competition children can visit  for an entry form and choose whether they want to join Mecha-Man in creating the next generation of superheroes or join Doktor Darkness in his Vault of Villains.

The ten winners will see their characters developed by the two comic book artists to play a starring role in the Hero Lab comic. They will also receive signed artwork of their characters.

The Hero Lab project has been funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering as a follow-up to the successful Science of Superheroes show run by Matt Dickinson over the last three years where the lecturer shared the science fact behind the science fiction of many well-known characters such as Spiderman, Wolverine and Iron Man.

Notes for editors

  1. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society.
  2. The University of Central Lancashire has developed an enviable reputation as an institution that innovates, evolving its course portfolio to over 500 undergraduate programmes and 180 postgraduate courses. The University has an established research reputation within the areas of Business, Health, Humanities and Science. In the recent Research Assessment Exercise, all 17 subject areas submitted were rated as containing research of international excellence while 11 areas were assessed to be undertaking research which is world-leading. With approximately 32,000 students, the University indirectly contributes close to £250 million into the regional economy every year. UCLan is currently in the process of spending more than £120 million on new buildings and facilities to support teaching, learning and leisure activities.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0636; email: Jane Sutton