MARVELlous Materials: Superheroes and Science

South Wales Materials Association
23 Oct 2013

16 October was the South Wales Materials Association first lecture of the year, with new President Dr David Penney in charge, and the most successful to date with 164 people, with ages varying from 11 to 80! The lecture was delivered by Dr Richard Johnston from Swansea University on the theme of Super Heroes and how materials science and engineering could explain their Super Powers. 

During the talk, we moved seamlessly from Science Fiction to real materials - starting point was Iron Man Tony Stark and his iterative developments of armoured, robotic suits followed by real world military exo-skeletons, reactive body armour and even phase diagrams. There was scepticism that Tony Stark had managed to develop all the materials, robotics and programming by himself, with a strong suspicion expressed by Richard that he was actually supported by a large group of low cost, behind the scenes PhD students - a theory not in favour with the Marvel Comic Society.

Richard also demonstrated how to calculate the density of the alloy 'Adamantium' which makes up Wolverine's skeleton - with digression into bio-compatibility of implants and composite structure of bone. He also revealed that Thor's mighty hammer was in fact only the same density as aluminium, and not as 'heroic' as you might think. The event closed with a review of Superman's X-ray powers, concluding he must in fact be using back-scattered x-ray detection, as used in the latest airport body scanners.

During the talk Dr Johnston brought the lecture to life by using a 3D printer to make a miniature Iron Man figure (scanned in via Xbox the previous evening), and a live demonstration of superconductor levitation. Overall, the lecture was great success and attracted an audience of Materials Scientists, a variety of other disciplines, the Sience Fiction Society and the Swansea University Marvel Society.

Further information

The talk is available on YouTube