[Order James Kakalios' book "The Physics of Superheroes: Spectacular Second Edition" from Amazon]The scene in question aired Oct. 28 during an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. In this clip, the Avengers are relaxing in their street clothes in Tony Stark’s penthouse apartment, and are discussing the “enchantment” on Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, which stipulates that it can only be lifted by those “deemed worthy,” and whoever does so will “possess the power of Thor.” Thor places his hammer on a coffee table (actually, as shown below, it is resting partially on some books on the table), and various heroes attempt to pick up the hammer, to no avail. Thor then hefts the hammer and casually flips it into the air.
Norse mythology and Marvel Comics tell us that Mjolnir is composed of “uru metal,” forged ages ago by the blacksmith Etri in the heart of a dying star. Presumably uru metal is magical in nature, and thus conveys the enchantment placed on it by Thor’s father, Odin. But in this matter we are not concerned with the fantasy of myths or comic books, but the real world of Hollywood movies.
In the 2011 film Thor, the Norse “gods” are identified as a race of alien beings, whose science is so advanced compared to twenty-first century Earth that their abilities appear not unlike magic to us (explicitly invoking Arthur C. Clarke’s third law). In this case, we can speculate as to the properties that uru metal must have in order to account for the experimental evidence in the Thor and Avengers films.
In the first Thor film, when Odin prepares to banish his wayward son to Earth, he whispers to the hammer: “whoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” In these days of interactive, voice recognition software in smartphones, such reprogramming of the hammer’s operating system through speech commands hardly counts as ‘magic.’ But how the nanotech embedded within the hammer executes Odin’s instructions does defy present-day science.
In the Avengers: Age of Ultron clip, Tony Stark speculates that there is a biosensor in the hammer’s shaft that recognizes when Thor has grasped Mjolnir. He is correct, in a sense—though it is not Thor’s fingerprints that the hammer is reading. Most likely it is…(read more)
Jim Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota and the author of The Physics of Superheroes and The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, both by Gotham Books.
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