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'Iron Man': Physicists tackle the science. We're listening...

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Image Credit: Francois DuhamelSidney Perkowitz, a professor of physics at Emory University, can break down the reality of Iron Man in five minutes, as seen in the video embedded after the jump. Were I interested in majoring in physics, I would want him to be my advisor. Things we learn:

• The idea of an “Iron Man” suit — or exoskeleton, which he describes as “a powered framework that you fit your body into that gives you enhanced endurance, or speed, or mobility or strength” — is already in the works by the U.S. Military. Discovery News has an easy-to-digest piece detailing the Top 5 of them.

• The U.S. Military has already devoted a billion dollars to developing artificial arms that are not only mechanically integrated but neurally integrated. We could use that technology to see if there’s a way to give a soldier direct neural control of his weapon. “So you might someday end up with a suit that makes you smarter, is under your direct mental control, lets you do amazing things,” Perkowitz says. “Flying, I think is maybe the hardest thing to think about. That I wouldn’t bet money on.” Wah-waaah.

• What you need for this to work is a power source, like Tony Stark’s arc reactor. Physicists have been working on the idea of a fusion reactor — the idea of making energy by “smashing together two hydrogen nuclei and turning them into helium” — for 60 years and haven’t made it work. The machines that would generate the amount of power Tony’s invention does — in Perkowitz’s estimation, the equivalent to the horsepower of roughly 2,000 to 3,000 Corvettes — are the size of a building. We might have a fusion reactor in the next 10, 15, or 20 years. But it will still be at least 30, 40, or 50 feet high.

Discovery News also has a piece about whether Iron Man 2‘s homemade particle accelerator is possible. It points to this more dense story in Popular Mechanics, which has Todd Satogata, a physicist in the Collider-Accelerator Department at Brookhaven National Labs, addressing the rights and wrongs of Stark’s machine. We’ll let you decipher that for yourselves.

More Iron Man coverage:

Owen Gleiberman: Now that Mickey Rourke’s back, what kind of movie star can he be?

Lisa Schwarzbaum: Iron Man 2, the power of charm, and the limits of clang

Would you have paid extra to see Iron Man 2 in 3D?