Yesterday a new clip from the upcoming Black Panther debuted and it showed off one Shuri’s technological wonders.
In the clip, Shuri explains that while T’Challa has been taking fire from the bad guys, the bullets have been charging his suit with kinetic energy. We see T’Challa make use of this kinetic energy when he jumps onto the hood of the assailants vehicle and transfers it into it, smashing the hood and disabling the vehicle. We at the MCU Exchange thought this might be a nice time to look at some of the scientific underpinnings of that scene and do a little physics!

To get started, we’ll have to discuss kinetic energy. Most folks remember learning about kinetic energy as early as middle school and think of it as the energy of motion and that’s a fine way of jumping in. In classical mechanics, one of the oldest branches of science and the one that studies the motion of objects, the kinetic energy is an object is the product of its mass and its velocity (speed with reference to the direction of the object). In regards to kinetic energy, the mass of the object makes much less of an impact than it’s velocity as shown in the equation below:

Kinetic Energy=1/2 mass x velocity squared

Practically speaking, a roughly 9 pound (4 kg) bowling ball traveling at 22 miles per hour (10 meters per second) would have less kinetic energy than a roughly half-pound (.250 kg) baseball traveling at 100 mph (45 meters per second). But what does that mean, really? The answer to that is in the question: what is energy?

Energy is something we all “know”, but if you ask 10 people, you might get 10 different answers. Energy isn’t something we can touch, but it is something that CAN be stored and CAN be transferred. It is also something we can measure (it has it’s own unit, afterall), but how can we measure something that we can’t see or touch? What we can measure it the CHANGE that the energy caused when it is being transferred from one means of storage to another and that’s what a Joule (the standard unit for measuring energy) does. A Joule measures the energy transferred into an object when one Newton of force is applied to change the position of an object by one meter. Since Newton an apples go together, think of it like this: if you lift a medium-sized apple about 3.3 feet (1 meter) from the surface where it was resting, you just used one Joule of energy to do make that change happen. Now that we moved it there, we’ve given gravity the ability to change the position of the apple as soon as we let go (gravitational energy), so the CHANGE in position has given the apple some energy.

With all that in mind, let’s breakdown this clip! In order to make this work, we had to make some assumptions about what was going on because we aren’t assault rifle experts and we also factored out some things to make this a fairly simple lesson. IF the bad guys were firing AR-15s at T’Challa and using .223 rounds, which some Googling says is standard ammunition, then we can do some math.

One .223 round has a mass of 0.0039 kilograms and can travel at a velocity of 975 meters per second. If we plug those into our kinetic energy equation from above, we find that each round has a kinetic energy of 1,854 Joules. To make things easy, we are ignoring several factors that could come into play and assuming that every Joule of energy from the motion of the bullets is transferred into the vibranium in T’Challa’s suit. So after taking some rounds, it seems that Shuri’s tech gives T’Challa’s suit the ability to transfer every Joule of that energy back out and, in this case into the hood of the car.

It’s kind of hard to count the number of bullets that make contact with T’Challa in the clip, so we came up with a few options to give us some practical examples of just how much energy T’Challa would be releasing so we can understand just what kind of CHANGE we are talking about. Since acceleration is factored into Joules, we can use the acceleration due to gravity on Earth of 10 meters per second per second to help us with the math.   If each round delivers 1,854 Joules, it would be the equivalent of dropping 185.4 kilogram object on the hood from a height of 1 meter (3.28 feet) or an 18.54 kilogram object on the hood from a height of 10 meters (32.8 feet).  That’s all well and good, but let’s look at those practical examples now.

Each bullet has the equivalent kinetic energy of an average size cement block dropped from 10 meters, meaning if T’Challa had been shot once and released all the energy into the car, the car would take a beating equivalent to a cement block being dropped onto it from a 3rd story window. T’Challa surely took more than one round, however, so let’s look at some other options:

  • 10 bullets would mean the energy transferred into the car would be the equivalent of dropping a small, upright piano (roughly 400 pounds) onto the car from a 3rd story window.
  • 4o bullets would mean the energy transferred into the car would be the equivalent of dropping a U-Haul trailer onto the car from a 10 meters.
  • 100 bullets would come close to giving T’Challa the ability to transfer an amount of energy equivalent to a midsize truck or SUV being dropped on the hood of the car from 10 meters.

Given those practical examples, it’s safe to say the amount of damage done to the car is consistent with what would be expected! This suit will do some damage!

Black Panther will be in theaters February 16, 2018!