The only thing that attracts most people’s attention in superhero movies is their superpowers. But, the science, engineering, and technology involved in making them that fulfilled their ultimate super strength are often overlooked. And yes, that’s the fact (you can’t deny).
Now, Suveen Mathaudhu, material scientist at University of California Riverside, shows us how superheroes inspire him into thinking how the concepts of superpowers , with real-world scientists, can pave the way for inventions of new materials to not only improve our technological world but to also save the world from mechanical disasters that accompany the new inventions.
For us to effortlessly comprehend, he put Captain America’s shield to use. This is the science behind Captain America’s shield as explained by him, and how other superhero technologies can be applied to real life.
According to the comics, during fighting of the Panzer Division tanks in World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt assigned army scientist named Myron MacLain to make a new steel, for which the tanks to be made of. While Maclain was conducting the experiment, a mystery element fell in, and ended up transforming the material into vibranium.
Vibranium is an indestructible steel alloy which Captain America’s shield is made of, and is stronger than adamantium. Adamantium is also another fictional metal alloy, which is also indestructible. It’s best known for being used in Wolverine’s bone claws and his skeleton.
In a statement at Engineering, Mathaudhu said that by dispersing nanoparticles through magnesium alloys, they could make the alloys transform into something that is almost as strong as some of the strongest steels by unit weight. Insignificant, certainly – but this could make a huge difference.
Magnesium is one-fourth the weight of steel but it has the same strength as that of steel. Because of this property, it is used in making of strong lightweight alloys, especially for the aerospace industry. And yes, dispersing nanoparticles could take us closure to developing something that is nearly as indestructible as Captain America’s iconic shield.
“Captain America’s shield is an amazing piece of the comic book universe,” he says. “It’s one of the most indestructible things; and as an engineer and as a scientist, I seek to design materials that can live in these extremes especially with transportation applications.”
His superhero research, which is part of the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF), also focuses on transportation. Since the weight of the vehicle drives fuel economy, lowering the weight can increase fuel efficiency, and this in turn can make transportation easier and more economical. But, Mathaudhu says most of his research would go into planes, trains and cars, as well as in biomedical implants and things like armor and armor components.
“There’s been a major example and that is the Ford F 150 which is the most popular truck in North America,” he says. “Last year’s Ford Model shifted from using a steel frame to an aluminum frame. Which saves a lot of mileage and increases the fuel economy of the vehicle by taking over 700lbs out of the frame of the vehicle and as we continue to do this our vehicles will become more and more efficient.”
He also expressed how impatient Myron MacLain was as he gave up too easy and was never able to duplicate the shield and its microstructure. Because, for a scientist to say – “I found something cool I’m not able to do it again” – is not a thing that anyone should be saying now.
“As a scientist we can look at individual atoms of a material,” he explains. “We have computational codes that let us predict things that we’re not able to see. I feel like as a scientist I’m able to tackle problems that society can’t tackle alone.”
The biggest challenge engineers are facing right now is in scaling up the material, because they can only make a really small quantities of it in the lab – just about the size of an Ant-Man or wasp, to be precise. But, once they could reach their desired goal, there would be immense opportunities. With that, you can Imagine that having a chance to do the same kind of things the superheroes do will become a reality not too far in the future.
Image: Science For All