The Engineering of Captain America’s Shield
Shawn Wasserman posted on May 04, 2016 |

At the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF), students interested in STEM had the opportunity to learn about the science and engineering that would go into become a superhero.

In this video from the festival, Suveen Mathaudhu, assistant professor at UC Riverside, discussed how to make Captain America’s iconic shield and how we can engineer other superhero technologies.

For more on how to engineer superheroes, see the interview transcript below or read this previous article on Mathaudhu.

Do We Have Materials Such As the Adamantium-Vibranium Alloy Used to Make Captain America’s Shield?

“We’re working on magnesium alloys that are ultra-light and ultra-tough by dispersing nanoparticles throughout them,” explained Mathaudhu. “By doing that we can get these alloys to be almost as strong as some of the strongest steels by unit weight.”

“Magnesium is one fourth the weight of steel yet it would have the same sort of properties.”

What Are the Engineering Challenges with Making Captain America’s Shield?

“The engineering challenges are with scaling it up because right now we can only make a small amount of these materials in the laboratory. Ant-Man sized, or maybe Wasp sized.”

“We can only make really, really small quantities of it in the laboratory. The challenges are scaling it up to make large parts for manufacturing, which is often a five to ten-year process to get there.”

What Are the Risks Involved with Making a Super Soldier?

“There will always be ethical concerns with super soldiers, in the same way as when baseball players use steroids to make themselves stronger and bigger.”

“But this is one of the things we might need to do when waging war.”

“The engineering challenge is that we need to do the basic science. People often want technology first and they don’t want to pay to do the basic science early.”

“The important part of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other funding facilities, is that they let us do basic exploratory research on high risk ideas that can pay off with remarkable technologies in the future. Like the type of things we are looking at now for advanced metals for armor.”

What Are the Industry Uses of this Superhero Research?

“Transportation is the biggest one. Vehicle weight drives fuel economy, so if we lower the weight we lower the fuel economy. If we do that, we make transportation easier and more economical for all of us.”

“Most of the research I’m doing would go into planes, trains and cars. But it could also end up in biomedical implants and things like armor and armor components. There is a whole variety of things that can be made out of advanced metals.”

How Much Would It Cost to Make a Real Superhero?

“To make a real superhero you would need a lot of money. Some analysis has gone into Batman’s suit, and his suit alone would cost about $12 million dollars to make, just to have all the armor and the stuff he needed.”

“But the science to make a real superhero is going on right now. The army is studying how to make dogs be able to run faster and be stronger. That could be used to make a super soldier.”

“In my lab, we are looking to make metals lighter and stronger. The NSF funds that research for us to make transportation more economical, or give better sustainability by lowering fuel usage or real armor for real soldiers. There is a lot of cool stuff we can do with these metals. We’re not that far away, and it won’t take that much more money to get us there.”

Who is the Most Realistic Superhero?

“The most realistic superhero right now would be one that does not have superpowers but can still do super things. Someone like Batman.”

“Iron man is fairly realistic in his intellect and his ability to build things but his flying suit would be 50 years away. We don’t have those compact power sources.”

“With Batman, most of the things he builds are things that are plausible to build at this point of technology, with enough money.”

Wouldn’t Ironman Become Soup in His Armor?

“He would definitely become soup because of the acceleration changes.”

“Also they claim in Ironman 1 that the suit is made from a gold-titanium alloy. This is actually only used as a dental implant because it’s so heavy and corrosion resistant.”

“So he would never fly in a gold-titanium suit!”

To learn more about the USASEF read STEM Fun for Everyone: Robotics, space exploration, chemistry and more!

Recommended For You