The Skeptical Samurai’s Guid to Comic Books: Iron Man (Part 2)

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books!

Featuring: Iron Man (Part 2)

Alright, so in the last instalment we looked at the inspiration behind the creation of “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books” and we began to exam the character Iron Man.  Specifically, we looked at the origin of Tony Stark/Iron Man and began to discuss the design elements of the Iron Man armour.  Specifically, we looked if it would actually be possible to make a real life Iron Man suit using modern technology.

Check out the original blog post here: https://theskepticalsamurai.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/the-skeptical-samurais-guide-to-comic-books-iron-man/

I apologize about the tardiness of this blog post, but this is a rather information intensive topic and it has required A LOT more research that is usually required.  I think (and hope) that you will find that the wait has been well worth it…so buckle up!  It is going to be an exciting ride!

How would one power an Iron Man suit?

We have come to what is the biggest obstacle in attempting to create a real life Iron Man suit.  Powering the darn thing!

Why is powering a suit of armour such a big deal you ask?  Well it is not like you can just strap an engine and gas tank to the back of the thing and fill it up at your local service station!  For a multitude of reasons, when looking for a power source for the Iron Man armour, an internal combustion engine simply will not work.  For starters, in order for the engine to be powerful enough to power the Iron Man armour it would have to be very large.  In fact, you would require an engine so large that it could not be properly (or safely) mounted anywhere on the Iron Man suit that would not somehow become a problem.  Even if you could somehow get past all of this, you would still have to overcome the fact that you cannot invert the engine (making any sort of aerial manoeuvres difficult if not impossible) and the internal combustion engine is an inherently inefficient design (the Iron Man suit would quickly burn through all of the available fuel leaving the suit without a power source).

So typical types of commercially available engines and fuel are out, so what does that leave us with!?  Well, sadly, not a heck of a lot!

But what about that cool “arc reactor” in Stark’s chest in the movies?

Why can’t we just throw one of those in our Iron Man armour?  Actually that is an excellent idea, except for one small little problem….although the technology presented in the Iron Man film(s) is grounded in science, it does not yet exist!  But despite this obstacle, this is still a glimmer of hope as there is actually a device that currently exists that produces energy by utilizing plasma contained within a magnetic field, it is called a Tokamak reactor.  However, current Tokamak reactors are approximately the size of your local electric/hydro/coal/nuclear power station

making it a little difficult to simply insert it in the chest piece of an exo-skeleton suit of armour.

Another issue that arises is that current Tokamak reactors do not have the ability to produce a sustained source of power.  There is nothing inherently implausible about the Tokamak reactor; it is simply of matter of technology not keeping up with conceptual theory.  The hope is that someday the Tokamak reactor (or even a “better” technology) will become a viable power source.  If and when this happens, we have a potential viable power source for our Iron Man armour!

Alright, so we have figured out a way to “power” the suit, but would we still require a fuel source?

This is actually a really important concept, specifically the notion of power versus fuel.  For the sake of this discussion, power can be thought of as energy that is capable of doing work.  Fuel is essentially what creates power.  Fuel under goes a thermo dynamic reaction to create energy which gives power.  Power can be thought of as what is going to be needed to run all of the on board operating/computer systems contained within our Iron Man suit.  However we are also going to need power to operate systems such as the rocket boots.  Let us take a quick look at Iron Man’s boots.

Notice all of the smoke/exhaust that is being emitted from the sole of the boot? That is by-product of all of the fuel required in order to power the rocket boots!  This raises the obvious question, how much fuel would you require to power the Iron Man rocket boots?  Excellent question!  Let’s look at that question a little more closely using the space shuttle as an example.  More specifically, the space shuttle when it is lifting off from mission control here on earth.

Do you see that gigantic orange tank that the shuttle is perched on?  That is a gas tank filled with fuel to power the two rockets that sit on either side of it.  That is right, that entire orange tank is one HUGE gas tank!  Granted the Iron Man armour is not the size and weight of the space shuttle, but this gives us an idea of the amount of fuel we need to power a rocket.

Well, what about a commercial airliner?  I mean, last time I checked I did not see any type of huge fuel cell on one of those times, and I mean, commercial air planes are huge, weight a ton, and fly across the Pacific Ocean…And they do not seem to require a lot of fuel to fly.  Well, look again!  A commercial airliner is basically one big fuel tank with wings!

So, have we actually gotten past the issues of powering the Iron Man suit?  It appears that a scaled down version of the Tokamak reactor would power all of the on board operating systems but as we have established have will require a massive about of fuel in order to power systems such as the rocket boots…

So would the theoretical scaled down version of the Tokamak reactor be a viable option?  Turns out that it will!  As long as we configured the Tokamak reactor in such a manner that it is able to supply power to the entire suit, as opposed to just the operating systems located in close proximity to the chest piece, we should be good to go!

Okay so the Tokamak Reactor is the answer to our power and fuel problem, but it is not going to run itself.  Where are we going to get the plasma in order to run the Tokamak reaction?

We have established that the Tokamak reactor is a viable source of power and fuel, however the reactor is not a perpetual motion machine (as that would violate the laws of physics) so how are we going to run the reactor?  Well we know that the Tokamak reactor runs on plasma, so from that we can deduce that we are going to require a constant (or at least replenishable) source of plasma.  So this raises the obvious question, where are we going to get this plasma from?  Excellent question!  Let us see if we can find ourselves an answer.

The human body has approximately 5 litres of blood circulating through it at any one time (give or take depending on body size, body type, hydration status, etc).  Approximately half of blood volume is plasma, so that gives us approx 2 to 2.5 litres of plasma to work with.  This same plasma that runs through our blood vessels could be used to power our theoretical Tokamak reactor.  As long as the user is keep relatively well hydrated this would be a plausible means in which to power/fuel the Iron Man armour.  So assuming that that the Tokamak reactor can be built and then scaled down to fit in the chest piece of the Iron Man armour, as long as the user has some sort of hydration system available or stops every few hours to rehydrate this is completely feasible!

Alright folks…that is it for now, stay tuned for Part 3!

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

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6 Responses to “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guid to Comic Books: Iron Man (Part 2)”

  1. Ok so is it possible to just make the arm/ hand and boot pieces or are you going to need to make the whole suit cause im intrested in just making the parts that makes you soar across the sky. Please answer. Thank you very much. By by

    • theskepticalsamurai Says:

      Wow…

      I almost do not even know where to start with this one!

      First off, i have to ask are you serious about attempting to build a legitimate suit of working Iron Man armour? I’m going to assume that you are not and that possibly there is a bit of a language barrier. That coupled with the context that can be lost via online conversation i am going to assume that you are just interested in discussing the theoretical possibilities in regards to building a suit of Iron Man like armour.
      But please do correct me if i am wrong!

      I do not think that it would be possible to just make the arm/hand and boot pieces. As discussed in the blog posts the suit of armour essentially works around Tony Stark’s chest piece. Without it, the suit does not appear to be possible (at least with the technology available to us at this time)

      Sorry to disappoint!

  2. You talked about the Tokamak reactor here: “Well we know that the Tokamak reactor runs on plasma, so from that we can deduce that we are going to require a constant (or at least replenishable) source of plasma.”

    And where to get it “approximately half of blood volume is plasma, so that gives us approx 2 to 2.5 litres of plasma to work with.”

    But those two types of plasma are completely different. The Tokamak reactor runs on plasma, which is a super-heated state of matter

    [reactor] Plasma = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_(physics)

    The plasma in your blood is a substance made of water and proteins.

    [blood] Plasma = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_plasma

    I don’t know if your were just joking or what, but I thought it might be good to point it out.

    • theskepticalsamurai Says:

      Thanks for the info and thanks for reading the blog.

      I am aware that plasma in biology and plasma and physics are two very different entities. However when researching the Tokamak reactor it looks like i mistakenly indicated that it runs on biological plasma. Honesty, the research i had done…i thought that this was the case. Turns out (after reading your post and doing some additional research) that this is FAR from the case.

      Thanks for pointing out this error. Looks like i am going to have to post a follow-up to this.
      And sadly this makes our dream of making a real life Iron Man suit even a little less likely

      thanks again for reading!

      • No harm done. It’s a shame that it doesn’t run on blood plasma though.

        You do bring up an interesting point though. All nuclear reactions of any type require some sort of material to be “reacted.” Maybe in the future tiny reactors attached to people could use small blood or skin samples as some sort of atomic fuel.

        Well anyway, thanks for reading my response, and keep up the good work, this blog is great

      • theskepticalsamurai Says:

        Thanks! Glad you are digging it. It has been lacking as of late as a result of school (currently in my 1st year of medical school). However the plan is to get it back up and running in the new year and return with a vengeance!

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