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UCR Professor Discovers the Science Behind Superheroes

UCR Today

Captain America's shield is one of many famous superhero weapons. It's made out of two fictional metals: Adamantium and Vibranium. They make the shield lightweight, super strong and most importantly indestructible. With Marvel's installment of Captain America: Civil War, it's hard not to imagine if superhero technology will ever be a reality. That's  exactly what UC Riverside's SuveenMathaudhu, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has thought about since his childhood.

"As a kid, I was inspired by many of the comic books and science fiction that I read and saw. And perhaps that's why I became a technologist and a scientist and an engineer."

Think of Cap's shield, Thor's Hammer, and Iron Man's suit. All of these are examples of what Mathaudhu's been working on. He discusses his research as the Science Behind Superheroes, which was also turned into a special exhibit for the ToonSeum, called Comic-Tanium in 2014. He also attended this year's USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC where he presented his work.

"When you list off and name people from the Marvel Universe that use metals you have Iron Man, you have Wolverine's claws and skeleton, you have Thor's hammer made out of Uru metal, you have Captain America's shield. All of these iconic features rotate around light weight and super strong metals."

The real science behind it all comes from a metal you might have not put much thought into: Magnesium. Mathaudhu uses Magnesium alloys that are both "ultra light" and "ultra strong" and then disperses nanoparticles through them. These nanoparticles make the magnesium stronger and they become like very powerful steels. The only problem he faces is making these metals larger than say Ant-Man Size.

Credit flickr.com
Captain America and The Human Torch.

As far as S.H.I.E.L.D, the fictional agency in Marvel that controls a lot of the technology, Mathaudhu says there's one real life agency that could be compared to it.

"DARPA is one. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funds things that could be perceived to be science fiction," he also says that they "[Control] bees to be surveyed, drones for the future D.O.D," and also that the creation of the internet was largely funded by DARPA as a way to communicate securely because they tend fund things on the very edge of science and technology.

Why superheroes? Mathaudhu says this idea of creating this technology stems from the fact that most of the science conferences he went to were a bit on the boring side. He decided to spruce things up by using panels from comic books that illustrated his studies and research. This not only caught the audience by surprize but also got them interested in his work.

"People really connected with it and it's kind of really taken off from there. I get to talk to young people; I get to talk to old people and schools. One really fantastic result of this is that I'm able to use comic book superheroes which I think cross cultures and genders and ages in a way that no other cultural phenomina does. You can cross the world and somebody will know who Superman is and who Spider-Man is and what Captain America's shield is, but also what each of those character's represents."

No doubt the new Captain America: Civil War has become a huge success since it's debut last Friday and Mathaudhu has nothing but good to say about it.

"Seeing them go up against each other is a very interesting and thought provoking exercise, but it's just a really, really fun movie," but Mathaudhu is also keeping a tight lip on what he reveals, meaning you'll probably have to see the movie if you want to see the metals in action. No spoilers on our end.

Check out more information about The Science of Superheroes

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