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Science Takes On Comics: Wolverine's Adamantium, Hulk's Transformation, Thor's Hammer Explained!
Why can't anyone else lift Thor's hammer? How athletic should you be to fight crime like Batman? And why is the Hulk green? Science answers all these and more!
by Gelo Gonzales | Nov 20, 2014
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Comic superheroes get a kick out of bending reality. They've no respect for gravity, physics, chemistry, and all sorts of Einsteinian matters. Superman eats bullets for lunch; Tony Stark isn't dead because of a mini power plant in his chest; and Peter Parker becomes a superhero rather than melting into toxic sludge after being bitten by a radioactive spider.

But could there be a grain of truth in their extraordinary exploits? As it turns out, the answer could be yes. Just like ghosts and stories about women giving birth to a fish, it turns out that science could be these comic book icons' worst nightmare, and we've round out below possible scientific explanations to popular superhero phenomena.

We're on to you Clark Kent!


Video via BattleOfShadows

The phenomenon: Bullets, swords or rampaging space freaks—nothing can damage the Man of Steel

The possible explanation: One of the most popular theories around is that, by the same logic that normal humans shed off dead skin, Superman sheds off some out-of-this-world material from his body. It is theorized that the material is some form of non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian fluid is a form of quicksand like matter that allows slow-moving objects to "sink" through it. However, an attempt to push through the surface with increased velocity results in the object being repelled in a trampoline-like effect.  

Sci-fi site says that this is a plausible explanation why Lois Lane can touch Superman but not fast-flying objects like a bullet.


Video via

The phenomenon: Okay, so Batman doesn't have superpowers. Or does he? He battles baddies night in and night out, suffers various injuries along the way, and does this continuously for years, presumably. At the very least, he's a super-athlete. Is his superhero way of life sustainable though?

The possible explanation: Hardly. A close inspection published on states that in order for Bruce Wayne to be Batman, he needs to be the world's best and most complete athlete. Think LeBron James if LeBron James was also a gold medalist at several Olympic events simultaneously and held the UFC belt at the same time. To achieve that, Bruce would need roughly around 12 years of extensive training, and an additional six more years to fully master all of it. Keeping in mind his regular injuries that would've accumulated through time, Batman would be able to maintain his peak form for only two to three years before regressing.

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The phenomenon: No one can lift Thor's hammer, except Thor

The possible explanation: When the Mjolnir was forged by the blacksmith Etri in the heart of a dying star—or so the story goes—Etri imbued it with the ability to read the biological and psychological profile of the man trying to lift it. According to, if the man isn't "worthy" to bear its power (read: he's not Thor) the hammer is able to release particles called "gravitons" that negate the upward force being exerted by Iron Man, Captain America, or even Hulk.


Video via AJ5994

The phenomenon: A radioactive (and presumably deadly) spider bites regular boy Peter Parker. Instead of mutating horribly, he gains muscles, spider senses, and superhuman agility.  

The possible explanation: The power absorption thing is complete fantasy but here's an area of concern that could be explained: Why doesn't Peter die by way of irradiated arachnid? One explanation is that the spider in question was not venomous in the first place and was irradiated with a relatively harmless dose of the isotope, Phosphorous-32—an isotope with a half-life of 14 days and would simply be excreted out of Peter's body in 14 days. The isotope is said to be covered in a membrane that prevents harmful radiaton.


The phenomenon: Captain America's shield is nearly invulnerable, able to absorb mostly any force thrown at it.  

The possible explanation: Matt Shipman, a writer for North Carolina State University's science blog The Abstract, posits that the shield works like a battery. When a huge impact hits the shield, all that energy generated between the two objects are absorbed by the shield like a battery being charged. In this case though, the transfer of energy is instantaneous. At the same time, the shield is also able to disperse that absorbed energy quite quickly much like a battery channeling its stored energy outwards. 


The phenomenon: Adamantium is the strongest alloy in (comic book) existence.

The possible explanation: The question here is, is it really possible to make such a lightweight material that doesn't crush Wolverine's body and at the same time be strong enough to cut through anything? One scientist, Suveen Mathaudhu, says yes.

"In the real world, new iron alloys are created for a wide range of applications. One such advance came in 2008, when researchers at NC State developed an iron alloy that was extremely strong and had high thermal stability. Those characteristics are important, because the stronger a material is the less of it you need. So a stronger material that can withstand high heat holds promise for use in extreme environments,” the program manager in the materials science division of the U.S. Army Research Office explains.  

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It isn't adamantium, but the constant progress in the manufacture of new alloys and materials could eventually lead to something as strong as Wolvie's famed bones.


The phenomenon: Bruce Banner gets exposed to gamma rays and instead of dying, became green, big, and angry.

The possible explanation: A Stanford researched bases his thoughts on scientific facts in the video below. Basically, the gamma rays shattered Bruce Banner's DNA, and when the DNA reassembled something ignited that enhanced his physique significantly. The ability to transform from Bruce to Hulk and back again, he credits to "epigenetic modification," which is essentially a phenomenon that allows for the reversal of genetic mutation.

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