Iron Man: Behind the Science
Not only does Tony Stark, a.k.a. the Iron Man, build "neat stuff," he turns science, technology, engineering, and math on its ear in the science fiction series starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley. With Marvel's Iron Man 3 scheduled for release in theaters on May 3, 2013, students can go behind the scenes with hands-on science that parallels the cutting-edge science at the heart of the blockbuster series. Whether you like Iron Man because you are a tinkerer, engineer, robot builder, budding quantum physicist, or programmer, science is at hand. Metallurgy, physics, radioactivity, robotics, weaponry, computer science, encryption technologies, energy sources, radioisotopes... it's all there—and Science Buddies can hook you up with great hands-on projects!
Science ExplorationThese Project Ideas encourage students to explore concepts and challenges related to science that appears in Iron Man:
Iron Man Robotics
- Grasping with Straws: Make a Robot Hand Using Drinking Straws: Iron Man's suit needs a lot more protection and power than plastic drinking straws, but building a straw hand highlights the thinking required in robotics design prototyping. What shape will your hand take?
- Soda Straw Robot Simulator: the droids in Iron Man 2 looked similar to Iron Man, but they didn't need to house a person. Use an online simulator to come up with your own robot designs!
- X Marks the Spot: Build a Robot to Protect Your Treasures: what goes into wiring a robot, a suit, or a security system to monitor and defend a perimeter? Build one and find out!
- Stair Master: Build an All-Terrain Robot: you may or may not be able to control battleground logistics. To succeed, your bot needs to be able to navigate the terrain and elements!
- I Like to Move It: Motorizing a Robot Hand *: move past marionette-style bots and take your robot to the next level by incorporating a microprocessor board like Arduino.
Iron Man Physics
- Build a Gauss Rifle!: a ball bearing won't put a dent in Iron Man's armor, but setting a Gauss rifle in motion lets you investigate magnetic acceleration stages and initial velocity.
- Rainbow Fire: there are plenty of pyrotechnics in Iron Man 2, and the defeated drones self-destruct with a bang. Explore your own explosive displays by investigating what happens when different chemical compounds are burned.
- Particles in the Mist: See Radioactive Particles Decay with Your Own Cloud Chamber!: Stark had to craft his own particle accelerator to create his palladium replacement element, but to see atomic particles flying all around you, all you need to do is build your own cloud chamber.
- Build Your Own Radon Detector: when your suit involves a radioactive core, keeping tabs on radiation levels is critical. You may not be wearing your own radioactive elements, but with a simple ionization chamber, you can detect low levels of radiation around you.
Iron Man Propulsion
- Rocketology: Baking Soda + Vinegar = Lift Off!: Iron Man's first makeshift propulsion system crash-landed him in a desert. Baking soda and vinegar might not serve you any better, but combined in a compressed space, they offer high-flying chemical reaction propulsion. Rig one of these film canisters to an action figure and see where it lands!
- Three, Two, One...Blast Off! Learn to Design an Ion Engine.: whether you need to leave the atmosphere or not, fuel and propulsion know-how is a must.
- Solid Motor Rocket Propulsion: explore rocket science to better understand the logistics of Iron Man's feet repulsors and arm-mounted stabilizers.
- Rocket Aerodynamics: Iron Man's flight system went through a serious overhaul after his crash landing. Explore the impact of design modifications on rocket-powered flight performance.
Iron Man Energy
- Water to Fuel to Water: The Fuel Cycle of the Future: an arc reactor powers Iron Man's suit, but in the course of the first two movies, Stark has to alter the power supply. Explore another cutting-edge alternative energy path.
Iron Man Magnets and Electro-magnetism
- The Strength of an Electromagnet: Stark is saved, early on, by someone who rigs an electromagnetic device to help him. Who knows when you might need to innovate an electromagnetic field on the fly!
- Building a Simple Motor Puts a New Spin on Magnets: your power needs will outgrow this coil pretty quickly, but you will learn the basics when you build a small electromagnet motor.
Iron Man Computer Science
- Artificial Intelligence: Teaching the Computer to Play Tic-Tac-Toe: Tony's house and lab are monitored and assisted by a computer AI named Jarvis. Teaching your computer to play a simple game and learn might be the first step in programming your own AI assistant!
- Program to Check a Sudoku Solution: several task-oriented robots help Stark in his home-based lab in the first movie. Experiment with writing a program that automates the validation and analysis of a set of data or user input.
Iron Man Materials
- It's Hard Work to Work Harden! Learn How to Make Metals Stronger: Iron Man's suit is probably made from an alloy that gives it particular properties, but work hardening is an important strategy used to strengthen metals.
- Which Metal Is the Most Resistant to Corrosion?: when wearing a metal suit, you want to be sure it will hold up, no matter what gets dumped on you.
Note: Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13. Parents can learn more about suggested viewing at Common Sense Media.
We will be linking to exclusive Iron Man 3 video footage, courtesty of Verizon FiOS, from our Facebook page on Monday, April 29. "Like" us at Facebook so that you catch the announcement when the video goes live. Every view of the video helps us better support K-12 science literacy!
Resources and How-to Guides for Iron Man Projects and ExperimentsThe following guides can help as you branch out and tackle your own Iron Man projects:
- Engineering Design Project Guide: whether you plan to build your own particle accelerator, program your own AI lab assistant, or upgrade your RC helibot, the Engineering Design Process Guide offers a blueprint for tracking design needs, prototyping, testing, and innovation.
- Introduction to Servo Motors: incorporate servo motors to accommodate programming needs in small bots.
- Getting Started with Arduino: take your robotics engineering projects to the next level with microprocessors.
- An Introduction to Radiation & Radiation Safety: understanding radiation, radioactivity, and the electromagnetic spectrum.
- Laser Safety Guide: what you need to know before you experiment with laser pointers.
- Electronics Primer: learn more about working with breadboards, soldering, and wiring your circuits.
Science Careers Inspired by Iron Man
- Biomedical Engineer
- Chemical Engineer
- Computer Hardware Engineer
- Computer Programmer
- Computer Software Engineer
- Electrical & Electronics Engineer
- Materials Scientist and Engineer
- Mechanical Engineer
- Nuclear Medicine Technologist
- Nuclear Monitoring Technician
- Physics Teacher
- Remote Sensing Scientist or Technologist
- Robotics Engineer
- Robotics Technician