As a scientist, I find that I have many questions about the world around me. Some of them are more pressing than others, it’s true. One of the more pressing ones: how much would Wolverine actually weigh if his skeleton were made of metal? It might be a strange thing to wonder about, but here me out. To be honest, I thought of it while watching the X-men origins movie about Wolverine. In one scene, we see him sit atop a motorcycle. In doing so, we see the suspension groan and creak in protest. Seeing this detail on film was a great thing to me. They went through the lengths to point out that, hey, this guy weighs more than you would expect him to. But rather than be shocked, it got me thinking: what would people expect him to actually weigh? Further, how much would he actually weigh if we were to bond metal to his skeleton?
First, we need to answer a few questions about the human body. For example, how much does an actual human skeleton weigh? Not surprisingly, it’s dependent on a person’s height and weight. Typically, a human skeleton weighs 15% of a person’s total body weight. According to Marvel’s own database, Wolverine is 5’3” and weighs 195 pounds without his Adamantium. Given that he’s in the peak of his physical condition (and that he has 6 extra bones... snikt snikt!), I’m going to make the assumption that 20% of his body weight is bones. That would make the weight of his bones no more than 40 pounds. Since the Marvel Database also tells us that he weighs 300 pounds with his Adamantium, that means his metal adds 105 pounds to his weight… that’s quite a bit. This tells us something important about the Adamantium on his bones, an aside for later.
|Who has time to cover those carpals?|
This brings us to the next important question: How much bone is actually in the human body? We need to know how much metal it would take to cover a person’s bones to begin with. However, upon further thought, this question is not one that we really should answer. As I thought about it, I realized there were bones in the body that wouldn’t be covered by metal. For example, the small bones in the inner ear (by the way, how would that affect how he heard things?). In addition, could a human’s hand function fully if it were to suddenly become 1/8 inches thicker all around? Essentially, it’s much more complicated to answer these questions than simply to assume that Wolverine’s bones have been replaced by metal bones. In this case, yes, we assume that bone marrow and all of the functions of the bones other than support is still intact. Now, finally, we have a starting place.
To begin with, we must examine our earthly limitations. For example, since we don’t have any metal analogous to Adamantium. In trying to determine how best to answer the question, I came up with three substances: our strongest pure metal, the strongest alloy we have (since Adamantium is actually an alloy), and the strongest material we have. Since our whole questions has to do with weights, we are going to use densities to answer our question. That means we need to know the density of normal bone. It turns out that, for a healthy human, it averages about 1.2 g/cm^3  on the high end. For Wolverine, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say his bone density averages about 1.5 g/cm^3, he is a special case, after all.
Now that we now these vital details about a normal skeleton, and keeping in mind that the decision was made to assume Wolverine’s bones weigh 40 pounds, we can proceed with the different materials selected. The strongest pure metal on earth is probably Tungsten, which has the highest ultimate tensile strength of any metal. This substance has a density of almost 20 g/cm^3, or 13.5 times greater than bone. Given this answer, if we replaced all of wolverine’s bones with tungsten, he would probably weigh something close to 700 pounds! He’d look pretty good for his weight…
Next, let’s take a look at the strongest metal alloy we have around: MicroMelt 10. This is a toughened steel alloy made with a high Vanadium content. They generally use this stuff in tools and punches... stuff that will need to take a beating without deforming. This stuff is about 4 times stronger than Tungsten and has a density of only 7.45 g/cm^3. Doing the math on this, we would see that Wolverine would weigh about 350 pounds… that’s much closer to Adamantium than before!
Lastly, let’s examine the strongest material we have ever been able to create (as far as Ultimate Tensile Strength can measure): Graphene. This is some of that super high tech nanotechnology stuff you sometimes hear about. This substance is so cool, the guy who made it actually got a Nobel Prize in physics that year. The tensile strength as far as they could measure it, was in the region of 87 times stronger than Tungsten. Even more shocking: this stuff has a density of about 1 g/cm^3… think about that for a minute, if we replaced Wolverine’s bones with the strongest material we can make, he would weigh less than he would with normal bones. For posterity, he would weigh about 185 pounds.
|This guy is Graphene!|
If you’re like me, you may have noticed an interesting trend that developed with the different materials. It would seem that, as you increase the tensile strength of the materials you examine, the density decreases. As it turns out, this trend isn’t true. As I took a look at the three types of materials I selected (pure metal, metal alloy, and synthetic material), I found that the density of one material usually stays similar to a material in the same category. In fact, if you look at pure metals, the trend would suggest that the stronger metals are actually more dense than the weaker ones. If you look at the artificial components, alloys and synthetic materials, it is here that you might see this trend. Being fully aware that I am not a metallurgist or a doctorate in the field of tensile strength, I would hazard to say that the ordering of atoms in a material play a big role in the tensile strength of that material.
From the information that Marvel has given us, in combination with the information we have about the human body, we can make the claim that Adamantium is an alloy with density close to 2.6 times normal bone: or 3.93 g/cm^3. This places adamantium very near Titanium in density, an interesting coincidence. Perhaps in a future entry, I'll examine more closely the properties of Adamantium. For now, I want to hear your thoughts and fears, your agreements and disagreements. Please put your comments below and tell me something you'd like to read about and I'll see what I can do!
For the record, Batman would totally win.
|He's supposed to be 5'3"?|