• Question: Would it be possible to engineer a material like "vibranium" (captain americas shield is made of it) which is so strong that it cannot be broken nor penetrated by almost any force?

    Asked by Czarek to Camilla, Dan, Katie, Mike, Rhys on 18 Jun 2015.
    • Photo: Camilla Weiss

      Camilla Weiss answered on 18 Jun 2015:

      In the comics Vibranium is a metal which absorbs all the energy directed at it and also becomes stronger the more energy it absorbs*. I don’t really know much about materials science so this might not be the bestanswer but I had fun researching the question!

      If you want a metal similar to vibranium in strength titanium’s a good bet. It doesn’t absorb energy though which would make it pretty painful to use as a shield. What you could do is sandwich something in between layers of titanium which could absorb some of the energy. Apparently aerogel would be a good solution, which is another reason why aerogel is so cool – if you google it you’ll see it looks like smoke made solid. For non-metal materials, scientists have been researching something called carbyne which is apparently the strongest material ever and it’s made from strings of carbon atoms. I don’t think any has been made yet though or how easy it would be to make. Fun fact that I found out: the strongest known natural material is limpet teeth! Yup – those little shells you see stuck to rocks – the animals inside cling to the rocks using little teeth and apparently these are stronger than any other natural material known to man. Having spent many summers trying to prise them off rocks to use as crab bait I don’t doubt it!

      *As a physicist this is problematic for me! Also, how does Captain America do any damage to his opponents if the shield absorbs any impact?

    • Photo: Katie Hassell

      Katie Hassell answered on 18 Jun 2015:

      Camilla! Great research!
      I have to say, I don’t know the answer to this one.
      It sounds a lot like a solid version of a “non-Newtonian Fluid” (have a look they’re great fun).
      A non-Newtonian fluid excerts a force that is equal to that being put on it – i.e. it pushes back!
      I wonder if there is some weird branch of solid state physics that could give us the answer.
      The other thing that comes to mind, is ferroics: ferroics have the special property that if you do one thing, it comes back with another – you have one type in your mobile phones, if you put pressure on it, it creates an electrical signal; also, if you put an electrical signal in, it will put the same force back out!
      There’s a lot of potential from the stuff we do know already – sounds like you have some research to do Czarek.
      Have fun!