Of Arc Reactors, Palladium Toxicity, and “Lithium Dioxide”

June 1, 2010 in Medicine, Misc by RangelMD

Like far right wing Republicans, summer movie block-busters are not known for their connections to . . reality. Iron Man 2 is no exception . . except that there is enough “techno-babel” to make it seem at least plausible.

First there is Iron Man aka Tony Stark who’s life is dependent upon an “arc reactor” implanted in his chest that is made, in part, out of the metallic element palladium which, along with rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium, is a platinum group metal with widespread uses as a catalyst, in electronics, and even as jewelry.

I have no idea how the arc reactor is supposed to generate such a massive amount of power coming from such a small device without an obvious fuel source. And what does this have to do with Palladium? Actually, there has been theoretical work done in the field of “cold fusion” (i.e. generating energy from the fusion of two hydrogen atoms at room temperatures and one atmospheric pressure) utilizing palladium as the catalyst. But no actual device has ever been created or proven to work.

However, Mr. Stark is stuck with this palladium arc reactor in his chest and it is causing toxicity from the palladium manifesting as great looking engorged veins that coarse up his chest to his neck and make really interesting 90 degree turns giving one the impression that this is . . not natural. Which is just as well since the vast majority of branching patterns in nature do not form at 90 degrees like a microchip. If anything, this should have looked like a fractal.

And what is palladium toxicity? It’s not uncommon that direct contact with palladium as with other metals can cause dermatitis which is a localized inflammatory skin reaction. There are no known systemic effects of palladium in the literature even though there have been studies showing palladium’s toxic effects on cells in vitro. If anything, Mr. Stark would have had a raging case of contact dermatitis involving the skin around the implantation site. I suppose the itching from this skin reaction alone would be enough to make him get drunk, put on the iron man suit, and go skeet shooting watermellons at his birthday party. But I digress.

And what about the “treatment” of “lithium dioxide” given to Mr. Stark for his palladium toxicity? Lithium is an element with a valence of one meaning that it can only form a single chemical bond. Two lithium atoms can bind to a single oxygen atom to from lithium oxide (Li-O-Li with two lithium atoms in place of the two hydrogen atoms in water H2O). Or two lithium atoms can combine with two oxygen atoms to form lithium peroxide (Li-O-O-Li). But there is no chemical way to get lithium DIoxide O-Li-O. Evidently, Tony Stark was the victim of medical quackery (and bad script writing) although there was quite a placebo effect on the a fore-mentioned microchip venous dilatation pattern on his skin which disappeared within seconds of being injected with . . something that was not “lithium dioxide”.

So Mr. Stark makes an arc reactor out of a new element that he synthesized himself using a do-it-yourself room sized laser. Don’t you need a particle accelerator the size of a small country to create a new element and that this element would be extremely radioactive and unstable and have a half-life measured in seconds? Ok, I’m not going there.

Probably the most realistic aspect of Iron Man 2 was when Tony Stark promoted his personal assistant, a woman with no formal business training, to be CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. This I could see happening.

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