Science of Superheroes Explained

Assistant professor helps organize exhibit that explains the science behind Captain America's shield and Wolverine's skeleton

Suveen Mathaudhu holding a Captain American shield.

Suveen Mathaudhu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a expert on the science of superheroes.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — Two years ago, while in Pittsburgh for an engineering conference, Suveen Mathaudhu visited the ToonSeum, a museum dedicated to comic and cartoon arts.

Mathaudhu, who is now an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, always had an interest in science and comics and likes to combine the two by sprinkling comic book examples into his papers and presentations.

At the museum, Mathaudhu started talking to Joe Wos, who then was the executive director of the Toonseum. Mathaudhu told him about his academic background and interest in comics. Wos asked him if he would be interested in curating an exhibit that would combine engineering and comics.

Suveen Mathaudhu standing in front of a group of children talking about the science of superheroes.

Suveen Mathaudhu talks about the science of superheroes as part of the Comic-Tanium exhibit he helped organize.

Mathaudhu said yes and Comic-Tanium was born. The exhibit, which is now on display through Jan. 5 at the ToonSeum, combines the real world of materials science and the fictional worlds of comic book heroes, such Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man and Batman.

“The goal is to get kids interested in materials science and engineering,” said Mathaudhu, a Riverside native who started at UC Riverside this fall. “They typically don’t think of engineering that is something cool or interesting. But when you make the connection that Spiderman and Hulk are scientists, kids start connecting to what scientists and engineers do.”

The exhibit, which was previously shown in San Diego and Washington, D.C., includes comic art reproductions, vintage comic books, movie props, and other artifacts with related scientific images and stories.

The exhibit shows how comic characters and real-world scientists and engineers use the tools and techniques of minerals, metals, and materials to save their worlds. For example:

  • The fictional element vibranium, which is a component of the indestructible alloy used in Captain America’s shield, is used to introduce real-world alloys that could lower the weight of cars and improve fuel efficiency;
  • Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton is used to introduce the materials tetrahedron, which illustrates the four areas (processing, structure, properties and performance) that engineers study to create new and better materials;
  • Magneto from the X-Men series controlling and manipulating electromagnetic fields is used to introduce scientists’ harnessing the magnetic properties of materials to improve motors, smart phones and medical equipment.
Suveen Mathaudhu standing with superheroes

Suveen Mathaudhu helped organize an exhibit about the science of superheroes that is now being shown at the ToonSeum in Pittsburgh.

In addition to being an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Mathaudhu is a faculty member in the materials science and engineering program. Prior to being hired at UC Riverside, Mathaudhu, who graduated from high school at La Sierra Academy in Riverside, was a program manager at the U.S. Army Research Office and an adjunct assistant professor at North Carolina State University.

His research focuses on the underpinning mechanisms that will make metallic materials and composites lighter and stronger. He is also an expert on the science of superheroes as depicted in comic books and their associated movies, and frequently speaks to the media and consults on this subject.

Mathaudhu along with the sponsors of the Comic-Tanium exhibit – The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS), TMS Foundation and ToonSeum – are in the process of creating an updated version of it that would include video and also modules that could be used by elementary school teachers teaching science and math.

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Suveen Mathaudhu
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