Iron Man’s Suit, Thor’s Hammer and Captain America’s Shield. – What are they made of?

Image credit: Shutterstock, 6 May 2019.

Iron Man’s Suit

You could say that Tony Stark was a bit under pressure when he developed his first Iron Man Suit, captured by terrorists and having suffered an injury by a shrapnel that is moving dangerously close to his heart. With the help of a fellow captive Stark builds a generator to power an electromagnet keeping the shrapnel from killin him as well as the very first Iron Man Suit that he uses to escape.

While this prototype suit was welded together from steel, and was therefore actually made from iron, Stark kept improving and developing his armours over time for different applications. This means that the Iron Suit materials changed over time.

Stark must have quickly replaced steel with a different material since it is a very heavy and rusts easily. The following armours were probably made from titanium since it is much lighter than steel, but still extremely strong. In addition to its strength, this metal can resist extreme temperature changes as well as chemicals such as acids, alkalis and water.

Stark might have chosen the alloy “nitinol” later on when improving his armours. This alloy is a mixture of the metals titanium and nickel. Therefore, it has all the above mentioned advantages of titanium, but it also has two special features called “shape memory” and “super elasticity”. These two properties help the alloy to return to its original shape after deformation. This means the material can “self-heal”, a huge advantage when fighting super villains like Thanos and Ultron.

For his final suits Stark seems to have moved away from metals completely. At the beginning of “Avengers: Infinity War”, he proudly tells Dr Strange that his new suit is made from carbon nanofibers. These fibers are very long and thin threads of carbon. Woven together, carbon nanofibers are both stronger and lighter than titanium and nitinol. This sounds like the perfect material for an Iron Man Suit (which is actually not made from iron as we have seen).

Thor’s Hammer and Axe

(Mjolnir and Stormbreaker)

Thor’s Hammer, Mjolnir, was forged from the heat of a neutron star, called Nidavellir. These incredibly heavy, dense stars are made when giant stars die in supernovas and their cores collapse. Due to the heat and pressure protons and electrons inside the core melt together to form neutrons. There are no repulsive forces between the neutrons, which means they pack together extremely tightly creating a relatively small, but super heavy object, the neutron star.

Unfortunately, all of this does not exactly tell us which material Thor’s Hammer and Axe are made from. I personally always assumed that it was in fact made from the neutrons inside the star. This would explain why it is so incredibly heavy.

However, in “Avengers: Infinity War”, this does not seem to be the case. Thor, Rocket and Groot travel to Nidavellir to forge a new weapon for Thor. In the scene that shows the forging of Stormbreaker, Thor’s Axe, it is clear that the heat to melt the metal comes from the neutron star. But that does not seem to be the case for the metal inside the boiler.

So, what else could Mjolnir and Stormbreaker be made from? Thor’s Hammer is always said to be extremely heavy. This means it must be at least partially made from a very dense metal. The two densest metals on today’s periodic table are osmium and iridium. These two materials could be a part of Mjolnir’s and Stormbreaker’s composition.

Besides being heavy, Thor’s weapons should also be reasonably strong when fighting Thanos, Ultron and other intergalactic villains. However, osmium and iridium are not very strong metals. Therefore, the material for Thor’s weapons would have to be an alloy (a mixture of metals) between osmium and/or iridium as well as a stronger metal like steel (which already is an alloy itself). With a mixture like this, you might just get the right material for Thor’s Hammer and Axe.

Captain America’s Shield and Black Panther’s Suit

Captain America’s Shield and Black Panther’s suit are both made from vibranium, a very rare metal that does not naturally exist on Earth. The only source of vibranium is the African kingdom Wakanda, the home of Black Panther. The country has a prehistoric meteorite to thank for this incredible natural resource. Vibranium fuelled Wakanda’s rapid technological development making it one of the most advanced nations on Earth.

In the movy “Captain America: The First Avenger” we get some demonstrations about what makes vibranium so special. Moreover, Howard Stark claims that vibranium is stronger than steel, which is proven later in the movie when Captain America’s shield defends projectiles from machine guns and even withstands rocket grenades.

In addition to being extremely strong, vibranium also has a low density, which means that it is very light. Howard Stark also reveals that the name vibranium comes from the fact that the material absorbs any kind of vibrations including sound.

There have been some discussions regarding the nature of vibranium. Some say it could be an alloy or a composite material since no pure metal on Earth comes close to its extraordinary properties. However, all composite materials and alloys that we know of have to be made in longer processes by humans, they do not exist naturally. Therefore, it is very unlikely, in my opinion, that such materials have reached Wakanda on a meteorite.

In my personal view, the meteorite must have either contained vibranium in its uncombined form or bound up in an ore. Ores are rocks that contain enough of a metal to extract it, so the Wakandans could have found an easy way to extract the vibranium. However, both these two scenarios would mean that vibranium is a new, unknown element.

Nevertheless, everyone is entitled to their own view on the Marvel Universe.

Sources

M. Lorch and Andy Miah: ”The Secret Science of Superheroes”, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2017, Chapter 7 and 8.

Nitinol: https://www.memry.com/intro-to-nitinol, 6 May 2019.

Carbon nanofibers: http://www.materialsforengineering.co.uk/engineering-materials-features/top-14-materials-for-2014/58395/, 6 May 2019.

Neutron star: http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/cosmos/N/Neutron+Star, 6 May 2019.

Movie: Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011.

Movie: Thor, 2011.

Movie: Iron Man, 2008.

Movie: Captain America: Civil War, 2016.

Movie: Black Panther, 2018.

Movie: Avengers: Infinity War, 2018.

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