How real-life tech is catching Iron Man’s heart

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Iron Man’s artificial heart is – literally – at the front and center of this beloved comic book character. A powerful metaphor, it showcases the strengths and weaknesses of Tony Stark and his alter ego.

Stark is a technological genius capable of building a miniaturized arc reactor, but the glowing, glowing device in his chest also prevents shrapnel from piercing his heart as a constant reminder of the fragility of life. Tony Stark casts a shadow over Marvel Comics and its cinematic universe.

Stark’s artificial heart is both the source of his power and his greatest limitation. And in the real world, too, mechanical hearts give people a new lease of life, but they have serious issues.

It doesn’t get much cooler than a glowing arc.Document / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

What is the cutting edge of cardiac technology now?

Mechanical heart technology keeps millions of people alive.

It is because so many people have heart disease. In the United States alone, the CDC estimates that about 6.2 million adults have heart failure. The World Heart Federation estimates that 17 million deaths worldwide are due to cardiovascular disease.

Surgically implanted mechanical pumps were first designed to serve as a bridge to a possible heart transplant. But now, ventricular assist devices are considered equivalent to a true human heart replacement. Compared to transplants, these devices offer similar survival rates. But they come with risks, such as a higher risk of extreme internal bleeding as a result of the implant.

However, devices are slowly improving. In September of this year, a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School detailed in Science Translational Medicine what they described as an “innovative biocompatible pump” that could provide “dramatically improved long-term support for patients with heart failure”. The pump needs to be developed before clinical testing, but the new pump could allow real-world cardiovascular patients to achieve the same measure of reliability as an arc reactor.

Could someone build Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor?

Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor gave him his fair share of trouble.wonder

The short answer is no, probably not, but that doesn’t stop some comic book fans from dreaming. In an article published in 2013 on Quora, a hydraulic engineer named Ryan Clarke deepened the imagined technical specifics of the mini arc reactor. His imagination gives an idea of ​​what it would take.

A crucial aspect of Clarke’s thinking is that Howard (his father and someone he had mixed feelings for) and Tony Stark use palladium and rhodium, specifically to “use the beta decay of Pd-107 ions as a source.” of electrons for electron capture. of Pd-103, thus producing an electrical circuit between two different radioactive isotopes.

But as the movies say, palladium and rhodium have a big problem – heavy metal toxicity, which would surely poison anyone’s body. The films tackle the problem by digging deeper into the MCU to find a solution – using Howard Stark’s notes on a mythical energy source, the Tesseract, he’s able to create a new element that could replace palladium.

To secure an arc reactor, you would need either this as yet undiscovered item or some kind of new shielding material that could protect the human body from the effects of strong radiation.

Could a nuclear powered heart prolong someone’s life?

Yes, but scientists would recommend that you try something else first. Pacemakers, which stimulate a steady heartbeat when the body’s own electrical currents aren’t enough, were once powered by a radioactive material called plutonium-238. These did not use chain reactions to produce energy, so they were not nuclear reactors.

The world’s first nuclear-powered pacemaker was installed in a person in 1972, but the practice was discontinued in 1988. The problem: Once a person died, they carried nuclear waste in their body. Plutonium has been replaced by lithium, and now the Los Alamos National Laboratory is asking that all discarded nuclear stimulators be returned.

What do the comics say?

Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor is linked to its origin story. But there are several threads to this story.

In the original Iron Man story, the billionaire playboy was testing weapons in Vietnam when he was captured by terrorists. Trapped in a cave, he meets another prisoner, the brilliant Ho Yinsen. Yinsen helps Stark create a powerful electromagnet that can keep shrapnel embedded in his chest after an explosion away from his heart.

Ho Yinsen and Tony Stark discuss Arc Reactor in Iron Man debut, Tales of Suspense Volume 1 # 39

This story is quite close to what is portrayed in the movies. But in the movies, the setting is updated in Afghanistan. Technically, it might be the electromagnet that keeps the shards away from Tony Stark’s heart, but the arc reactor that powers him is by far the coolest part.


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