Archive for skepticism

The Cost of Being Iron Man

Posted in Skeptical Samurai's Guide to Comic Books, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2012 by theskepticalsamurai

Greetings loyal readers of the Skeptical Samurai Blog!

Oh how I have missed you!

It has been a busy couple of weeks on the Skeptical Samurai front!  Just in the process of wrapping up some of the finishing touches on our new home so that we can actually begin the process of physically moving into our new accommodations.  Exciting!

Also of note, I officially started medical school this week.  Technically, I started last week, but it was all orientation so no actual lectures/classes.  This week marked the official start of classes and diving into the course material.

Suffice to say (as I am sure some of you have noticed) the blog has suffered a bit (in that there have not been as many posts).  Don’t worry; I have not forgotten about you or the blog, it is just that there are only so many hours in a day!

Sadly I have no ground breaking investigations for you this week, but fear not, as I am hard at work on another segment of “The Skeptical Samurai’s guide to Comic Books”.  I will give you a little hint…

Additionally I am also hard at work at converting the blog into a full-fledged podcast!

So free not dear readers…there is still much to be expected from your good friend the Skeptical Samurai

In the mean time I thought that you might find the following link interesting.  I really enjoyed it and I thought that it would make a nice addendum to the “Skeptical Samurai guide to comic books: Iron Man edition” that I did a while back (here is a link to the original blog posts:  This serves as a “real world” cost analysis of what it would actually take to be Iron Man.  Granted this article goes into both Iron Man and Tony Stark (and his life style) but I certainly does a bring an element of realism to the notion of what it would cost to become an Iron Man type super-hero.

Enjoy! (click to enlarge)

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…


The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books: Iron Man, Part 4

Posted in Comic Books, Critical Thinking, science, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another installment of…


The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books!  Featuring: Iron Man: Part 4, The Epic Conclusion!


Thanks for tuning in dear reader!  Thus far we have established the inspiration for this segment of the blog and we have investigated various aspects of the Iron Man armor to determine if any of it is based in reality and if such a suit would even be possible in the “real world”.  To catch up on all of the action check out the original blog post here:


Check out Part #2 here:


And Check out Part #3 here:


So what is left for us to talk about?  Well, weapons and offensive capabilities of course! I have left the proverbial best for last!  I mean what fun is the Iron Man armor if we cannot blow stuff up (NOTE: the Skeptical Samurai does not condone and/or support the random blowing up of stuff).  Anyone even remotely familiar with the Iron Man armor is well aware of its many tactical capabilities.  So where do we even start!?  Good question, might I suggest that we begin with the relatively straightforward and then move toward the more fantastic.


For the purpose of this blog we are going to focus on the following components of the Iron Man arsenal: guns, missiles and the almighty repulsors.  I realize that the Iron Man armor has many more items in its arsenal, but for the sake of simplicity (and the fact that these weapon systems are the ones that most people will be familiar with) we are going focus on these weapon systems.


And with that, now onto the epic conclusion to The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books: Iron Man Edition!




Before we get into the offensive capabilities of the Iron Man armor, we must first discuss Iron Man’s defensive capabilities.


Defensive Capabilities!?  But you promised us the good stuff!  And what on earth does Iron Man need defensive capabilities for!?  I mean, he is Iron Man! 


Someone much greater then me once said, the best defense is a good offense.  Well that statement most definitely has merit, our Iron Man armor can have all of the offensive capabilities in the world, but if it susceptible to even the most basic of attacks, then it is not going to matter what the suit is capable of.


Alright…so defensive capabilities are important. Which of the Iron Man defenses are based in reality and which are based in fiction?


The majority of Iron Man’s defensive capabilities are actually grounded in reality.  As we have already established in previous blog posts, the Iron Man armor will be constructed out of a variety of insanely strong materials.  Consequently, physical damage to the suit will be at a minimum.  However, if and when the suit is exposed to some sort of direct impact we need to be concerned about possible injury to our user.  Allow me to explain.


Think of a high-speed car accident (I know not the most pleasant thing in the world, but stick with me).  Often times it is not the trauma of the actual car accident that kills the driver.  Instead it is the acceleration/deceleration forces experienced by the driver that result in death.  A subtle difference, but a difference none the less.  Think of all of the force generated by a car accident.  All of that force has to go somewhere.  Modern vehicles have been designed to channel that force away from the driver (with technology such as airbags and the manner in which the front of a car crumples).  However, often times (especially at excessively high speeds or in older vehicles) it is simply not possible to channel this force in a safe direction.


Acceleration/deceleration forces can easily damage the soft tissues that make up blood vessels walls.  Specifically, these types of forces can easily damage blood vessels such as the aorta (which is arguably the most important artery in the body as it pumps fleshly oxygenated blood out of the heart to the rest of the body).



Damage to the aorta will result in blood spilling out into the extra vascular space (instead of being pumped into the intravascular space where it is supposed to be) and can very quickly result in death (in talking within a matter of minutes).


Relating this to our Iron Man armor, an impact with enough force may not cause damage to the external panels of the armor, but it could potentially kill our user, which is simply not acceptable.  So with the above information in mind, we are going to need to develop some sort of additional protection in order to ensure the safety of our user.


Unfortunately, it is not going to be as straightforward as simply lining our armor with a bunch of extra foam padding.  Why you ask?  Well, materials such as foam are compressible and while they may be capable of deflecting the force of a relatively minor impact, any type of force over a certain threshold will simply “pass through” the foam (or any type of compressible substance) and harm (or even kill) our user.  What we require is some sort of non-Newtonian fluid.  That is, we need a fluid that is capable of changing its “behavior” depending on the type/amount of force that acts on it


I know what you are thinking…


“Non-Newtonian fluid!?  I thought that we where going to stay about from fictitious explanations in our pursuit to build real life Iron Man armor!”  Fear not dear reader, as promised we are going to keep the explanations grounded in reality.  Check out this video clip (fast forward to 02:05 if you do not want to watch the whole video)



It turns out all that needs to be done is to mix water and corn starch and we have ourselves a non-Newtonian fluid!  As demonstrated in the above video, a mixture of water and cornstarch creates a non-Newtonian fluid that changes its proverbial behavior when a force is acted upon it. This substance will remain a liquid at rest and will become a solid (for lack of a better description) when a force is acted upon it.  It is this property that will ensure that when our Iron Man armor is exposed to a significant force (say like a blast from a tank), that our user will not be fatally injured.


This extra layer of protection could be added in contained bladders located between the armor panels and our users skin (no actual bladders pictured here, just a reference for where the bladders would be placed on the user in relation to the armor)



Additionally, the non-Newtonian fluid could simply be pored into the suit.  The fluid would not be as contained as the above example with the bladders so this option would be a bit messier but would provide the best protection to the user as there would be gaps that could potentially lead to injury.  The following picture gives you a bit of an idea of what this might look like (notice that Tony Stark, pictured here in the “Ultimate Universe”, appears to be covered in a fluid of sorts)



However, I think that it is safe to assume that we are not just going to allow our Iron Man armor to just eat impact after impact from missile and other types of projectiles.  We are going to want to avoid impact/damage from aggressor’s weapons when possible…


So how are we going to do that?


Again, the answer is actually pretty straightforward.  As previously discussed the Iron Man armor will be capable of moving at incredible speeds.  Additionally, it will also be extremely agile and capable of maneuvers simple beyond the capabilities of most (if not all) aircraft and weapons systems.  Consequently, it will be relatively easy for our Iron Man armor to out maneuver the vast majority of the obstacles that it might encounter.


But what about those situations where our Iron Man armor is engaging multiple projectiles from hostile targets?  Or what about weapons systems that utilize heat seeking/infrared technology.  These types of projectiles (as well as the possibility of multiple projectiles) are notoriously difficult to deal with and can be extremely difficult to loss once they have locked onto a target.  So, how do we expect our Iron Man armor to deal with this threat?


With flares (of course!)


Now I am not talking about road flares (although in all honesty, standard issue road flares would most likely do the trick), but instead weapons great flares (as pictured here being deployed by a military plane)



Or as deployed by Iron Man in the following clip



These types of flares typically contain/burn a substance such as magnesium.  This allows them to ignite and burn hot/bright enough that they are able to “trick” most target and chase types of weapons systems.  A relatively simple solution to our problem, but a solution nonetheless!


Alright, Alright!  We need defenses, I get it, and on that point I must concede, but can we PLEASE PLEASE talk about Iron Man’s weapons systems and offensive capabilities!?


Well I guess that I have made you wait long enough, so ask and you shall receive!

Let us start with the small (and more plausible) and work our way up from there.  Let us start with small arms/guns.


Check this image out (I know, I know, its War Machine, but you get the idea)



Looks pretty badass right!?  This type of tech would actually not be all that difficult to design and produce.  Essentially what we have is a cartridge (a bullet loaded into a casing containing a propellant which is ignited by a primer), which is loaded into a short barrel.  Pretty simple right!?  All we need in order to make this system function is a means of launching the projectile forward.  This could be easily achieved by utilizing a contained/concealed striker fire system, which is the same firing system as seen on any standard issue Glock pistol



I know what your thinking, how are we going to activate and aim this striker fire system? Well with Jarvis (our on board computer system) of course!  Given the complexity of our on board computer system (as discussed in previous blog posts) aiming and activating the striker fire system will be a relatively straightforward task.


In addition to the more traditional striker fired/cartridge system, the Iron Man armor also utilizes missile technology.




Again, pretty badass right!?  It is quite a sight to watch Iron Man deploy these relatively tiny missiles and then have them fix in on their targets and cause chaos and destruction.  The astute amongst you will pick up on something of an anomaly in the last sentence, specifically, the use of the term “tiny missiles”.  Allow me to explain, a missile is essentially a rocket with some sort of warhead (or payload) attached to it.  The rocket is what propels the missile in a specified direction and the warhead is what does the damage.  The extent of the damage is determined by the size of the warhead.  Ergo, the bigger the warhead attached to the missile, the more damage that can be done to an intended target.  Let us take a look at the relatively common Sidewinder missile


This particular missile has the capability to take out aircraft size targets.  Compare this missile to those ones in the above pictures that deploy from Iron Man’s wrist gauntlets.  Notice anything?  Iron Man’s missiles are relatively TINY in comparison!  Yet somehow Iron Man still manages to take out aircraft and tank sized targets!  How on earth can this be!?  Again, excellent question!


For obvious reasons missiles the size of the sidewinder are simply not going to fit on (or within) the Iron Man armor.  Now for small targets (say the size of a medium to large size box) the missiles deployed by Iron Man (in the above pictures) would be sufficient. However, we can assume that our Iron Man armor is going to have to engage hostile targets much larger then a small to medium sized box.  So we are going to have to find a means of making the most of the weapons that we have.  Now we could go with the old argument that Tony Stark has simply equipped the missiles with some sort of super secret destructo technology that only he has access to, but (again) what fun would that be!?


So instead of taking the easy way out, let us take a look at plausible options that explain how such a small missile can be effective against such a large target.  A little bit of research quickly uncovers the answer to our query, “Smart” technology.  Now when I say “smart” I am not talking about a missile that is capable of doing your grade school multiplication tables, instead I am talking about a weapon system capable of targeting the weak point of a given target thus inflicting the most amount of damage with the smallest payload.


Wait a moment…


in order for our missiles to be capable of targeting the weak points of their intended targets, each one is going to require a complex on board computer system, connected to the Iron Man suit,  that is capable of complex calculations (far beyond any high school multiplication tables) ensuring that each missile is capable of hitting the weakest point on its intended target.  Alright, looks like I am going to have to retract the statement regarding a missile capable of doing math!  So the take home message is that by utilizing “smart” technology, we can use the smallest warhead possible, thus making it possible to fit onto/into the Iron Man armor and ensuring that we are able to inflict the maximum amount of damage on even the largest/most well armored target.


Enough with the bullets and missiles, Iron man is know for his repulsors!  So, tell me about Repulsors! 


Alright!  Are you ready for it!


It is time to talk about the almighty Iron Man repulsors!



So let us get to it!


So after combing the Internet and peer reviewed journal after peer-reviewed journal, I have come to the following conclusion regarding the almighty Iron Man repulsors…


Sadly, the most iconic weapon system in Iron Man’s arsenal appears to be nothing more then a complete work of fiction.  Based on our current understanding of the natural world, Iron Man’s repulsors are not currently reproducible.  That is not to say that someone will not some day develop a functioning repulsor, but for the time being we are going to have to make without!


This has been the Skeptical Samurai….


WAIT!  WHAT!?  NOT SO FAST!  No Repulsors, how can that be!?


I know!  I know!  I want the repulsors to be real as well!  Sadly, given our current understanding of the natural world, repulsors are simply a technology that is not realistically feasible.


But your right, we cannot just leave it at that!  Well I guess that we could, but that is not why you come to the Skeptical Samurai blog now is it?  You come here for logic, reason and explanations.  So with that in mind let us take a look at why implementing repulsor technology into our Iron Man armor is (at this time) simply not possible.


Although at first glance Iron Man’s repulsors appear to be based in reality, a closer examination reveals that there are several factors that make their construction (currently) impossible.


1)    There appears to be no moving parts.  Although initially this does not seem like a deal breaker, most modern weaponry is based on the principle of some sort of mechanical devise that follows the formula of a charge that ignites a propellant, which then pushes a bullet/payload/warhead toward a target.  Although there is certainly technology in development that differ from this formula, it is still in its infancy and no where near developed to a point that it could be realistically deployed in an exoskeleton suit of armor

2)    The repulsors seem to require no charging time.  Again, most if not all of modern armaments utilize the formula of a mechanical device that hits a charge that ignites a propellant that pushes a bullet/payload/warhead toward a target.  Weapons systems that utilize this formula require reloading.  Weapons that differ from this formula typically require a significant amount of “charging” time in-between each discharge.  Depending on the weapon system that we are talking about this can be minutes to hours.  For reason that I do not need to explain when we are in the middle of a firefight with a rogue scientist utilizing our own technology against us we simply do not have the time to wait minutes (to hours) in order for our repulsors to charge!

3)    The damage that the repulsor inflict upon their intended target appears to be kinetic in nature.  That is, a force is being impacted upon the target (and a massive force at that).  Allow me to clarify, there are three types of damage that a warhead can do: kinetic, thermal and chemical.  The damage done by the repulsors does not appear to be thermal in nature, so this rules out the possibility that the repulsors are simply some sort of supped up flamethrower.  The damage done also does not appear to be chemical in nature, specifically, there is no evidence of a chemical reaction taking place upon the intended target.  So that leaves kinetic damage and for there to be kinetic damage there would also have to be some sort of kinetic energy working on object deploying the weapon system (in addition to the kinetic energy being experience by the intended target) and this is just simply not what we see depicted in the comics.  In the comic books, Iron Man appears to experience little (or even no) recoil when the repulsors are deployed.  This does not leave us with a plausible explanation regarding how the repulsors are causing damage to their intended target.

4)    And the last and final issue (and it is a big one), the repulsors can be used without the rest of the suit.  This would support the conclusion that the repulsors are being powered by something other then the reactor in Tony’s chest.  Given that our explanation for the reactor in Tony’s chest is based yet to be developed technology that does not really leave us with a plausible explanation regarding how the repulsors are being powered.


So given the points presented above, as much as it pains me to say it, the only way in which it will be possible for us to create repulsors for our Iron Man armor is with the use of fictitious/non-existent technology (read as: it is not going to happen).


And with that we have concluded the epic four part series of “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide To Comic Books: Iron Man Edition”.


So what have we learned?


As surprising as it may be, the vast majority of the technology integrated into the comic book version of the Iron Man armor is based in reality.  Although certain aspects are completely fictitious (the repulsors) and others are beyond our current capabilities (the power source in Tony’s Chest) much of what we see is actually grounded in reality and completely within the realm of possibility.  So for all of you out there who had ever wanted to have/build your own suit of Iron Man armor, keep your chins up as there is still hope for you!


I hope that you have enjoyed reading this saga of blog posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them!  Please feel free to drop me a line (check the contact page) and suggest which comic book character you would like me to investigate in the future!  And please stay tuned as there are some exciting things in the works!  Until next time…


This has been the skeptical samurai


Working to serve…


Through the process of inquiry…






The Autotrophs Began to Drool: Part 2

Posted in Critical Thinking, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by theskepticalsamurai

We are going to take a quick break from the recent multi-part segment “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comics Books: Iron Man Edition” to revisit an old blog post.

Specifically, a blog post titled “The Autotrophs Began to Drool” (

In that blog post we took a look at the theme song to the hit TV series “The Big Bang Theory”

Originally, we looked at the line “the autotrophs began to drool”, and the controversy regarding that particular passage.  We then went on to investigate what exactly an autotroph is (an organism that produces its own food) and explain how exactly an autotroph would begin to drool (it would not actually begin to drool, instead it would pave the way for species that would someday begin to drool).  As it turns out, things are not quite as simple as I made them out to be.

As is often the case within the scientific community, there are often several legit/reasonable trains of thought regarding a particular topic.  There is often evidence both for and against each particular train of thought.  This is especially true when it comes to the origin of life on earth.

As reader “Biogirl” pointed out, my assertion that autotrophs pre-dated heterotrophs (hence the line, the autotrophs began to drool) was not exactly correct.  After doing some additional research, as best as I can tell, the general consensus within the scientific community is that heterotrophs pre-date the first autotrophs.  Although there are some legitimate arguments to the contrary, our best evidence seems to indicate that heterotrophic organisms where the first (or 1st for my good friend Ernie) life form on the planet earth.

Let us explore this topic a little bit further shall we.

The current consensus is that prokaryotes where the first life form on the planet.  Prokaryotes are defined by what they lack.  Specifically, prokaryotes are typically single celled organisms (although there are a few varieties that are multi-cellular) that lack a cell nucleus, or any membrane bound organelles for that matter.  It is worth noting that although this is the general consensus in the scientific community it is far from being considered fact.  There is a reasonable amount of data to support the theory that eukaryotes where the first organisms on the planet, that the first prokaryotes (that we have fossil records of) evolved from them and then that the eukaryote ancestors that we have in our fossils records evolved from those prokaryotes (you still with me!?).

Let us work from the assumption that prokaryotes where in fact the first organism on the planet, when we consider the line “The autotrophs began to drool”, this leads us to the obvious question, did the autotrophs in fact begin to drool (or maybe put a little more scientifically, which came first the autotrophs or heterotrophs).  My initial assertion was that the autotrophs came first which then paved the way for the development of heterotrophs (see the original blog post for a more detailed explanation of this process).  Turns out this may not be the case.  As we discussed above, the details regarding subjects such as the origin of life on earth are far from set in stone (get it!?  Many of the details we have regarding organisms from the past are from fossils that are…wait for it…physically set in stone!).

The first life form on earth was the chemotroph.  Chemotroph is just a fancy way to say that these organisms obtain energy by the oxidation of electron donors from the environment.  This raises the obvious question, where the 1st chemotrophs autotrophic of heterotrophic?  Although, the answer is still being debated amongst the scientific community, our best evidence tells us that the 1st chemotrophs where most likely heterotrophic.  That is they consumed nutrient sources outside of their “body” in order to run internal processes (versus utilizing internal processes to produce nutrient sources).

So what does this mean for our now infamous line “the autotrophs began to drool”?

Well, according to our best evidence the autotrophs did not in fact begin to drool!  Instead the heterotrophs began to self produce!  Looks like we need to change the lyrics of the song!  Or at least modify it to indicate something to the effect of “some within the scientific community believe that the evidence supports the notion that the autotrophs did not in fact began to drool, but instead the heterotrophs began to self produce”

Has a nice ring to it does it not!?

On a related note…

This blog series (The Autotrophs Began to Drool: Part 1 and 2) is an example what I love about skepticism.  Contrary to what many have you believe, skepticism is not about heading out into the world and debunking everything that you come across, quite the contrary actually.  Instead, skepticism is about the process of inquiry.  Sometimes you are educating others and other times you are the one being educated.  So I want to take a moment to officially thank “Biogirl” for her contribution to the blog!

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

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

Posted in Comic Books, Critical Thinking, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to Comic Books, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2012 by theskepticalsamurai

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:

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…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books: Iron Man

Posted in Comic Books, Critical Thinking, science, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to Comic Books, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books!

Featuring: Iron Man

Well, this is actually the 1st instalment of “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books”, but I plan on making this a regular segment.

So you may be wondering to yourself, why on earth would you write a series of “skeptical” blog posts about comic books!?  I mean, comic books and the characters contain within them are fictitious right!?  What is the point of taking a skeptical look at something that does not even exist!

Well dear reader…

That is an excellent question!  Please allow me the opportunity to explain.

I have always loved comic books.  I love the art as well as the stories (or in comic book lingo, the pictures as well as the words).  I have always been fascinated by the characters and stories contained within the covers of comic books.  After getting into skepticism, that fascination took on a bit of a different approach, and I started to look at comic books in a new/different way.  Specifically, I started looking at characters and events within the books and wondering to myself, “Is there any plausibility to the characters and events in these stories?”  I also began to wonder that if some of the less then plausible characters did actually “exist”, what would they look like in the “real world”?  And with that, “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books” was born!

Before we get into the meat of this blog post, I feel that I should point something out.  The world of comics is full of debates regarding the “real” origin of certain characters, the validity of certain story lines, how “the movies” incorrectly portray “our” beloved characters, or who would win between Superman vs. Batman (answer: Batman would win).  Although from time to time I may comment on these types of topics (again, Batman would whoop Superman’s butt!), they will not be the focus of this segment of the Skeptical Samurai blog.  If you want to “nerd out” (which I try and do at least once a day), on the details surrounding your favourite character(s) I suggest you check out any number of comic book forums.  There are plenty of heated debates going on there, and the contributors of those forums do a much better job of covering the specifics of characters then I could ever hope to do.  So with that in mind, please allow me the present to you, “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books”.

This week featuring: Iron Man

Before I get started, allow me a moment to acknowledge Mr. Ryan Haupt.  He wrote an entry some time ago for Marvel Comics regarding the “science” behind Iron Man.  I got a lot of my info from his articles so Mr. Haupt, I tip my kabuto to you!  From the Marvel Website:

“Ryan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Geology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and is going back to school in the fall to get a Masters in Paleontology from Vanderbilt University. Currently, he helps research a variety of topics ranging from stable isotope geochemistry, mammalian paleoecology and oceanographic paleoclimatology. He hosts the podcast “Science… sort of” with two grad student friends where they hang out while talking about science and geek culture. He occasionally fights rabid and rogue elephant seals, but only for science.”


Iron Man, better known as Anthony (Tony) Edward Stark was first introduced by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby in 1963.  The details have changed over the years, but the origin of Tony Stark/Iron Man is essentially as follows: Tony is a billionaire/playboy/genius who owes and runs Stark Industries, a multi-national corporation that build/creates advances weapons and defence systems.  Attempting to steal his weapons technology, a group of terrorists kidnap Stark, hold him captive, and force him to construct a weapon of mass destruction.  Ever defiant, Stark instead builds a powerful suit of armour with which he defeats his captors and escapes back to Stark Industries.  He then goes on to create new and more advanced suits of armour and uses them to fight crime on a large/global scale.

Iron Man is incapable of being Iron Man without one MAJOR component…the Iron Man armour.  Iron Man’s armour has under gone many changes over the years.  From the MK 1 suit which is the suit of armour that Stark built in order to escape from his terrorist captures

 The classic MK V armour 1st seen in the 1970s through the MK VIII versions seen to the late 90s

Extremis armour based on nano technology in the early 2000s

To the newest version which is the bleeding edge armour.

And this is just a small sampling of the armour that Tony Stark has worn over the years.  In addition to each individual model of armour, there are also a variety of different “modular” additions to many of the suits that meet the needs of specific missions/tasks.  Any attempt to try and analyze each and every version of the armour (along with accompanying “modular” attachments) would require a herculean effort that would result in enough written material to create a set of encyclopaedia volumes on the subject and although that may entertain a few, there would be a lot of repetition, and lets but honest, most of you would fall asleep at the keyboard!  But fear not dear reader, because the vast majority of the Iron Man armour is a variation on a central theme, essentially, a man inside a suit of armour.  For the purpose of this blog post we are going to focus on the “Classic Red and Gold” armour, the MK V through MK VII armour seen from the 1970’s through to the late 1990’s.  The main reason that I chose this armour is because it seems to be the most well known version of the Iron Man armour, largely in part because of the release of the “Iron Man” films.  So with that in mind, let us get to it!

Could Iron Man actually exist?

That is an extremely interesting question (at least to a nerd like me!) with somewhat of a less then straight forward answer.  The simple answer is, no, Iron Man could not exist.  Our current technology simply cannot duplicate or surpass the capabilities of the Iron Man armour as depicted in the comic books.  The less straight forward answer is that Iron Man could exist…well kind of.

There are many elements of the Iron Man armour/technology that are completely plausible and within the realm of current technology.  In fact, many of the parts of the Iron Man armour exist in isolation, but (for a variety of reasons we will get into in a bit) have not been brought together into a single suite of armour.  It is worth noting that a variety of different exo-skeleton suits have been designed by developers over the years.  While most of these suits are intended for single purpose use or are far from complete working models, this certainly leaves open the possibility for there to someday be a complete and functioning Iron Man (like) suit of armour.  So

Alright, so a suit of Iron Man armour is not currently feasible, but if it was, what would it be made of?

Well the most logical answer that comes to mind is iron.  Good guess, but you would be incorrect!

Although an extremely strong metal, iron is very dense and thus very heavy.  The density of iron is great when it comes to things such as protection, but the density (and thus the associated weight) quickly makes this material rather undesirable.  The main reason being is that excess weight means it requires more fuel to propel (which is an issue onto itself that we will get to shortly) and will make the suit more difficult to navigate.  It is also worth noting that as hard as iron is, it is not near as hard as some of its own alloys, such as steel, but Steel Man just does not have the same ring to it now does it (In reality Iron Man is named Iron Man as a tribute to the 1st Iron Man suite that Tony Stark created/wore when he escaped his terrorist captors in the original comic book series.  The original Iron Man armour was actually made of iron.  Subsequent versions of the Iron Man suite abandon the material iron, but the name was retained)!

So the Iron Man armour would not be made of iron, well then what would it be made of!?  Well it would most likely be made of a composite of a number of different materials.  The drawback of most single elements is that they are strong in some areas, while weak in others.  The benefit of a composite material is that it can be made and manufactured to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks.  Alright, so we have established that Iron Man’s armour would be made of some sort of composite material, but what type specifically!?  Well there are a few potential candidates.

The 1st candidate is a titanium nickel alloy called nitinol.

Nitinol is, for a metal, relatively light, making it an excellent material for applications such as armour that must be capable of flight.  It is also extremely strong and has a very high heat resistance, which for obvious reasons is something that you would want in your Iron Man armour.  Another perk of Nitinol that if it is somehow deformed it can easily be reshaped and repaired, this is especially handy if say you have a suit of armour that needs to with stand all sorts of abuse!  So Nitinol would be a great material to use for the skeleton/frame/shell of an Iron Man like armour.

Another material that would most likely be incorporated into the Iron Man armour is some sort of multi changed carbon composite.  Carbon is a really cool (well cool to nerds like me!) material that can completely change its properties based on the types of bonds it makes.  Made properly it can be extremely strong and stand up to EXTREME temperature (in excess of 2300° F).  The main drawback of carbon composites is that they tend to be relatively brittle and thus are subject to increase wear and tear.  Considering the pros and cons the carbon composite they would function best on the boots of the Iron Man armour and around weapons systems that would all tend to generate higher temperatures.

The final material we would most likely see on a real like Iron Man suit of armour would be a new type of material that is composed of a single-crystal titanium.  This stuff is super cutting edge, and there is really not much information out on it (at least to the public).  However, it is making its way onto/into the newest high tech military jets, so if it is good enough for a top secret military jet I am going to assume that I would be a good candidate for fictional suite of armour!

Whooaaa!  We are just getting started!  Stay tuned for Part 2!

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…





Whatever Happened to the Mythical Plastic Gun!?

Posted in Firearms, Guns, pseudo-science, skepticism with tags , , , , , , on November 1, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Those of you regularly read my blog will most likely remember my blog post about the mythical “Glock 7”.  For those of you who have not yet read the post: here is a link:

The quick and dirty on the “Glock 7” is that it is a “plastic” handgun that is made in Germany, costs an insane amount of
money, and is capable of getting by all known security systems (you know, because it is plastic).  Oh yeah, and I almost left out one key feature, the Glock 7 does not exist!

Anyway, I recently came across a blog post discussing the topic of mythical “plastic guns”.  Specifically, the author of the blog
discusses some of the mistruths often associated with the mythical “plastic gun”.  Whether or not the author intended it, the post is actually quite skeptical in nature, and I thought that some of you might find it interesting.  So with that in mind, here in mind here is the link:

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…


The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies: 300

Posted in movies, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to the Movies, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies!

This week’s movie: 300

“300” spot lights the actions of King Leonidas and he leads his 300 Spartan warriors into what would eventually be known as the Battle of Thermopylae.  It is worth noting that the film “300” is actually an adaptation of Frank Millers graphic novel “300”.  The graphic novel was not only used as the basis for the script but also as a reference for how each scene was shot.  While the film is “based on real life events”, as any regular reader of the Skeptical Samurai blog will know, the phase “based on real life events” does not mean that a film is a accurate retelling of a historical event.  Often times a film that claims to be “based on real life events” will include numerous factual details about the story being told, but it will also embellish and expand upon actual events for the purpose of making a film more appealing to a commercial audience.  With that in mind, let us take a skeptical look at the movie “300” and separate the fact from the fiction.

Film: Did the Battle of Thermopylae really happen?

Reality:   Yes, the Battle of Thermopylae is a real life historical battle that took place between the Spartans and the Persian
army.  The battle took place in either August or September (depending on which scholar that you ask) of the year 480 BC.  Here is an artist’s rendition of what it would have looked like in 480 BC

And here is what the area looks like today

Film: Did just 300 Spartans really take on the Persian Army?

Reality:  Well, sort of.  As the story is told in the film it is a single brigade of just 300 Spartan warriors took on the entire Persian
army.  Well it is true that there were only 300 Spartan warriors, there were not alone.  More, specifically, the Spartans had the help
of multiple neighbouring Greek communities.  Greek historian, Herodotus estimated that the Spartans had the assistance of approximately 5000 additional soldiers.  Diodorus Siculus, another Greek historian, estimated that approximately 7000 additional soldiers helped the Spartans fight the mighty Persian army.  It is still impressive that such a comparatively small number of  warriors managed to remain competitive against the entire Persian army, but to portray the Battle of Thermopylae as a war between 300 Spartans and the entire Persian army is simply inaccurate.

Film: The Persian Army numbered one million soldiers!

Reality: Not quite.

Although ancient texts indicated the Persian army was one million soldiers strong, modern historians estimate that the number was actually closer to somewhere between 70,000 to 300,000.  Still quite impressive numbers, but quite far removed from the one million soldiers as portrayed in the film.

Film: The Spartans fought wearing only a helmet and a shield for protection/armour.

Reality: This is completely untrue.

Here is the Spartan warrior (specifically King Leonidas) as represented in the film “300”

Here is a statue of King Leonidas, which represents what a Spartan warrior actually looked like

Notice a difference!?

The Spartans wore body armour.  As most ancient warriors (and even modern warriors know) effective body armour is one of the best ways to ensure that you survive in battle.  Seeing as the Spartans were some of, if not the most, skilled warriors of the time period (if not of all time), they were well versed in the most modern (for the time period) weapons, armour, and battle tactics.  Accordingly the Spartan soldier was covered head to toe in armour.  Add a shield, spear, and short sword and you have one formidable warrior!

The Spartan armour (expect for the helmet and the shield) was removed from the graphic novel (and the film) for purely aesthetic reasons.  As stated by author graphic novel writer/artist Frank Miller (in an interview from Entertainment Weekly), “I took those chest plates and leather skirts off of them for a reason. I wanted these guys to move and I wanted ’em to look good. …Spartans, in full regalia, were almost indistinguishable except at a very close angle.”

Film:  Leonidas is held over a cliff by an elder for assessment/inspection.  The film indicates that this practice (that is the assessment/inspection of the young) was common place in Sparta.  If a child was deemed to be acceptable he is returned to his parents.  However if he was deemed to be unacceptable he will be discarded into the pit below and be left to die.

Reality: Surprisingly, the above representation appears to be true.  For lack of a better term, the Spartans practiced what would be known today as eugenics.  Eugenics is the practice of attempting to improve the genetic composition of a given population
as a result of direct human intervention.  This can be attained by a variety of different means, in the case of the Spartans it meant the killing of infants who had been deemed “unfit”.

When most people think of the term eugenics, they think of Adolf Hitler and the holocaust.  Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party where under the delusion that the Arian race was the “master race”.  In line with this train of thought, Hitler and the Nazi party killed millions of innocent people in the holocaust of World War 2.  If we use as an example of eugenics, Sparta should be considered as somewhat an exception to the rule. In the simplest terms, Sparta was a militarist state.  Emphasis on military fitness/preparedness began at birth.  From the time a child was born to the time he entered the military a Spartan warrior was tested to ensure that he met the proverbial grade.  This was to ensure the strength of the Spartan army, and the Spartan nation.  In order to promote this strength, infants deemed as not up to the Spartan measure would be discarded.  Accounts vary; some suggest they were left by
hillsides, while others suggest that infants were thrown off a chasm located on Mount Taygetos.

Film: While addressing his soldiers Leonidas yells “tonight we dine in hell”.  When told to surrender their weapons Leonidas
provokes the Persian army with the phase “come and get them”.

Reality: As seen in the movie 300

“Tonight we dine in hell!”

“Come and Get them!”

Our best evidence, specifically the writings from Greek historians such as Herodotus and Plutarch, indicate that King Leonidas did in fact speak these words.

So this begs to obvious question, how could the words spoken by King Leonidas’ on the battle field have gotten back to the people of Sparta if not a single Spartan warrior left the Battle of Thermopylae alive?  Well, as discussed above, the Spartans were not the only warriors at the Battle of Thermopylae.  The Battle of Thermopylae took place over a period of several days, on the final day of the battle Leonidas actually instructed some of the non-Spartan troops to retreat (Additionally, some sources indicate that several Spartans may also have escaped with their lives).  The exact reason for this is not clear and is most likely lost in the sands of time, but these soldiers would have returned to Sparta, and this is the most probable source of how King Leonidas declarations where passed on to the denizens of Sparta and eventually become something of legend.

Film: Xerxes, King of the Persian Empire, was a towering 9 foot tall, bald man, with an insanely deep voice, who paraded around in nothing more than jewellery and a loin cloth.

Reality: Not quite.

In reality, Xerxes, better known as King Xerxes the 1st, was quite different than the character seen in the film “300”.  In the film Xerxes looked like this

In reality he would have looked more like this

Similar to why he removed most of the armour from the Spartan warriors, Frank Miller has stated that he imagined Xerxes in the manner that he did, for visual effect.  More specifically, he wanted to portray Xerxes as the god-king that he claimed to
be.  Making him 9 feet tall, with a baritone voice and an eccentric wardrobe helped to accomplish this goal.  As pictured above, in reality Xerxes had longer brown/black hair with an accompanying beard, was of average height, and to the best of our knowledge did not have insanely low baritone voice capable of shattering glass!

Film: The Spartan army was betrayed by Ephialtes, a hunchback who tried and failed to join King Leonidas’ army, by alerting the Persian forces of a trail that allowed them to bypass the “Hot Gates” and thus negate the advantage that the Spartan army had created by funnelling the Persian forces through a small channel.

Ephialtes, better known as Ephialtes of Trachis, is based on a real character.  However his depiction in the film “300” is far from accurate.

Similar to other changes, noted above, in the graphic novel (and subsequent film, Ephialtes character was changed in order to emphasize a point in the film.  In this particular case, Frank Miller transformed Ephialtes into a deformed hunchback, who’s family had smuggled him out of Sparta as infant prevent his death by the hand of the Spartan elders would have deemed him as “unfit”, in order to highlight the Spartan practice of eugenics.  Ephialtes returns around the time of the Battle of Thermopylae and expresses his wish to join the Spartan army.  After demonstrating that he is incapable of properly protecting his fellow Spartan
warrior, King Leonidas is forced to deny Ephialtes request.  It is this rejection that fuels Ephialtes desire for revenge and ultimately results in his betrayal of Leonidas and the Spartan army, or so one would be lead to believe by the film.

Ephialtes did betray the Spartan army.  However, he was not a disfigured outcast, who was seeking revenge on King Leonidas as depicted in the film.  Instead he was a commoner who had no previous interactions with King Leonidas or the Spartan army, and for reasons that ultimately remain unclear, he betrayed Sparta. Greek historians indicate that there where at least two other men who also betrayed the Spartan army, but it was Ephialtes that informed the Persian army of the trail that allowed for the bypass of the “Hot Gates” which ultimately lead to the defeat of the Spartan army.

Film: The Spartan army battles against the specialize Persian fighting unit, The Immortals!

Reality: The Spartan’s did in fact fight against the Immortals.  However, the Immortals portrayed in the film
where much different than their reality based counter parts.

In the movie the Immortals look like this

In reality the Immortals looked something like this.

The Immortals received their name, not because there were not some mythical/super natural fighting unit, but instead because they always keep a force of men 10,000.  If one died or was wounded there was always another man to replace them, it was as if the
military unit was immortal, hence the name.  The Immortals also did not wear steel masks and heavy armour as depicted
in the film.  Instead they wrapped their faces in cloth, wore light armour, and used wicker shields.  It was there characteristics that ultimately lead to the Immortals defeat.  Put simply, the lack of effective armour and shields was simply no match for the Spartan war machine, and the Immortals were defeated with relative ease.

So there we have it…

As we have learned before, just because a film is “based on real life events” does not mean that it is an accurate description of a
historical event.

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…