We recently caught up with Henry Lau from the Institute of physics, who’s been employed to examine and analyse the scientific feasibility behind the Avengers movie. The answer we got might surprise you; some of the certainly surprised me.
Check out what we talked about:
SB: Hi Henry. How’s it going, you alright?
HL: I’m good thanks!
SB: Awesome. Shall we jump in, I’m quite restricted here time wise.
HL: Of course, go for it.
SB: I was wondering if you could explain a little bit about your role at the Institute of Physics.
HL: I am the editor of physics.org, which is simply put a website where people can go find out about physics.
SB: So can we assume that from your involvement with The Avengers property that what we’ve been seeing is scientifically… well not possible, I guess, but feasible?
HL: Well what I’ve been doing is looking at The Avengers movie; at what is physically impossible and feasible and what’s out of our reach at the moment, from a physics standpoint. I could give a couple of examples?
SB: Of course! Scientifically feasible Superheroes? We’ll always entertain a discussion on the topic!
HL: [laughs] Well, for example, looking at The Hulk, one of the major things about that character is that he can jump several miles in one go. If you look at an object with his weight – which is 75 tonnes I think – in order to be able to jump several miles in one go you’d need as much thrust as a Saturn V Rocket. So you know, basically one of the most powerful rockets we’ve ever built, it’s the rocket that took the astronauts to the moon. Physically speaking, that sort of power is possible, and it’s existed for many years. So it’s not impossible to create that much power, but its unfeasible that we’d ever have the technology or the capability to be able to administer that sort of power on such a small scale.
Another thing about The Hulk: he’s exposed to Gamma rays, a huge amount in fact and that would kill a person. But we use gamma rays in healthcare. We use it to kill tumours; they fire the rays at the cancerous cells and it can actually kill the tumour. And you know, we’re using gamma rays for good, which is sort of what The Hulk does.
SB: But what would you say would happen if someone was exposed to the amount of radiation that Bruce Banner was? Is there even the slightest chance they’d get any sort of power? If so, where do I sign?
HL: [laughs] Well, if someone was exposed to the same amount as Bruce Banner, they’d definitely die because Gamma rays cause damage to DNA in our cells, and that’d definitely kill you. So don’t get too excited.
SB: [laughs] I kind of suspected as much. Ok so have you had any thoughts on Iron Man? I mean, he’s only human right. Are we capable of such technology at this stage?
HL: Well in the movie, he’s got these repulsor rays in his palms and looking at it from a physics point of view they’re essentially lasers, you know, they’re just shooting out light. Lasers are used in all sorts of applications in real life. In industry they’re used to cut wood, cut paper, or metal for car doors and whatnot. Or in health care for laser eye surgery, or in America, they’re trying to build a new type of power station, and they’re using lasers to basically start a fusion reaction, and trying to use that as a power source.
So we are using lasers in reality, but to get to get a laser as powerful as what Iron Man uses, I’m not so sure. Like for example, shooting Thor across the woods in the Avengers movie, I mean you’d have to use at least 6 times the amount of power that the UK uses at any one moment.
HL: So with every laser comes a power supply. And often, if you want a big laser, you need a big power supply. These power supplies can sometimes be the same size as a room. So for Iron Man to get that much power into such a compact suit is unfeasible at the moment. But advances in technology are coming pretty thick and fast, we could come to the point where we could harness enough power to be able to do what Iron Man does.
SB: You just blew my mind.
SB: So do you think there’s the possibility that as a species we’re heading to a time where feats like those we can see in the Avengers are feasibly within our reach?
HL: Well, all the stuff we see in the movie is obviously fiction, it’s just for entertainment, but there’s lots of great physics in there still. Take Thor for example, I mean, he’s controlling lightning and he’s causing lightning strikes. WE know, of course, that lightning happens here on Earth, but we can’t control it yet. I mean it’d be really cool if we could. Lightning has enough energy to toast ten thousand slices of bread, so if you could harness that, that’d be amazing. If we just imagine a little bit, it does help. Science fiction as always been loosely based on science, so some of these ideas could feasibly come to fruition in the future. If you look at technology fifty years ago compared to what it is now, we’ve made huge advances, so who knows where we’ll be in another fifty. We might just end up getting there.
[our mediator calls time on our interview at this point]
SB: Well, thanks for that Henry. I know my minds been sufficiently blown for one day anyway; hopefully I’ll still be around on the day someone makes an Iron Man suit. And jesus, do I hope there’s a midnight launch.
You heard it here first! Maybe someday soon we’ll all be flying around in our own personal mech-suit, directing lightning this way and that, or launching ourselves for miles at a time. Until then, Avengers is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.
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