Marvel has set such a benchmark for superhero movies that seems almost impossible to break. One of the leading characters in the Avengers movie series is Captain America. A superhero created by serum in a lab. But as we know Captain America is known for his shield and is even represented by it and one of his signature moves is throwing the shield as it ricochets against the walls and takes down enemies has left us thinking how exactly does it function?
The shield’s technology
Fortunately for Cap, the shield is made of an alien material known as Vibranium. In the Marvel universe, it is known as the hardest material on Earth, it absorbs the vibrations and of course is impossible to break unless you are a twin-blade-wielding purple alien.
Since we don’t have Vibranium available in reality the only material that even comes close to it is Braeön. Pronounced as brawn, it is a composite material that is extremely thin weight, flexible and strong. So can we make the captain’s shield out of it? Actually no, as marvelous as Braeön is, it still isn’t capable. As the mentioned properties apply when it is in a single layer, combine all of those layers to build something bigger and its flexibility is reduced. Not to mention, it is extremely sensitive to heat, as it can ignite at just 121 C and as we know Thor struck the cap’s shield with a lightning attack, it was definitely over 121 C. Also, at this stage, it is only available in white color which is a big no for shield making.
Physics behind the shield
Now let’s get to the science part of it.
- Kinetic Energy: Once an object sets in motion it gains kinetic energy, it is represented as ½mv², where m is the mass of the object and v is the velocity at which it is traveling. But here’s the interesting part about the cap’s shield, any object that has gained kinetic energy once struck by another object usually results in either sound, heat, or deformation of the said object to release that kinetic energy build-up, however, nor his shield is heated, damaged, or produce any significant sound.
- Elasticity: Since we know Vibranium can absorb the vibrations, we can assume that for the tiniest fraction of a second the shield deforms when it’s colliding with a wall but due to Vibranium, as soon as the stress is released from the shield it regains its shape reverting the mentioned kinetic energy back into the shield and continues to provide it the motion.
- Coefficient of restitution: A COR of the bounciest objects the super ball has a COR of 0.85, and 1 is the threshold. Anything above it and the object breaks, anything below it is not as bouncy. Given how the captain is bouncing his shield all the time it must have a COR of 1.
Combining all three of these factors, we can see how the shield works. It surely gains a lot of kinetic energy given it is thrown by a super soldier, then upon hitting the wall it slightly deforms but here’s the interesting part, it snaps back just like a rubber band, allowing it to continue to ricochet off the walls and since it’s COR should be around 1, it has properties to be bouncy instead of being stuck into the wall. Now we can safely produce it, we just need the Vibranium.
Applications of Avengers technology in reality.
Let’s assume somehow we manage to create technology shown in the movies with such amazing properties, apart from making the glorious shield what can we do with it?
- Body armors: Sure, we have kevlar armors used in the army but they are not very useful, as there are a certain amount of bullets they can absorb and after that, it’s basically useless. If we were to create armors with the same technology as Captain America’s shield, it would deflect bullets with no problems and could be used theoretically forever.
- Clean Energy: The arc reactor of Iron Man, can only be described as ingenious. Although it is being used as a weapon in the movie, the clean energy provided by the arc reactor which is easy to harness can result in clean energy, which we desperately need given the number of emissions.
- Hyperloop: Coming back to cap’s shield, although the hyperloop is already in the making and research is being conducted but it is still years away from being completed. However, with properties like absorption of vibrations, elasticity, and indestructible, hyperloop can be easily made as the basic principle is to reduce air drag and vibrations from the travel to gain extreme speeds.
- Surgical Equipment: Ant-man’s suit is another scientific marvel in the marvel universe. If we manage to create such a technology that can shrink and enlarge even by a slight margin it will revolutionize medical science. Especially, the surgeries as tiny cameras can be used to see exactly where to operate.
- Infrastructure: In Earthquake-prone areas, it is seen that metal frames of the structures become unstable and ultimately fall. But if it was made with shield technology it could easily absorb those vibrations and protect the structure from collapsing. Not only that, this kinetic energy could in theory be converted into electricity as well.
It is amazing how fictional characters and their arsenal can spark such curiosity within our brains and literally make us turn to science to find if it’s possible or not. Though Vibranium and Pym’s technology are unavailable in our reality, we can hope that in the future scientists create such technology as it will help our world tremendously. Till that happens we can enjoy the movies.