Inside Science Of Iron Man 2

May 5, 2010 By Emilie Lorditch, Inside Science News Service
Robert Downey Jr. is back as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, in "Iron Man 2." Credit: Francois Duhamel

When Iron Man 2 opens in theaters this Friday, you probably won't notice the science consultant who helped bring real science into the world of science fiction.

In the sequel starring Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, needs to build a giant particle accelerator to come up with a new way power the reactor in his chest that pumps his heart. The film's producers wanted an accelerator that would not only mesmerize audiences, but also resemble what an actual particle accelerator would look like.

So where does Hollywood find scientific expert when they need one?

Jeremy Latcham, Senior Vice President of Production at Marvel Studios and Co-producer for Iron Man 2, knew just who to call -- the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences that connects experts in entertainment with experts in science and engineering.

"Scientists can offer more than just simple fact-checking of scripts," said Jennifer Ouellette, director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange. "Get them involved early enough in the production process and their input can be invaluable in developing not just the fundamental scientific concepts underlying a scene, but also -- since film and TV are a visual mediums -- scientists can help filmmakers more fully realize their visions on screen."

Latcham was able find an expert who could give the film the science facts that it needed.

"I went to Marvel Studios to meet with one of the film’s producers (Latcham) and even brought a graduate student along," said Mark Wise, a at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who served as a technical consultant for the film. "There was a specific set of scenes that I was consulting on; the story had to get from this point to that point."

Wise was surprised by Latcham’s and the film crew’s interest in the actual science, "I attempted to present the science in a way to the help the movie, but still get a little science in," said Wise. "They wanted the scenes to look good, but they also wanted elements of truth in what they did, it was nice."

During a round-table discussion with Latcham and a few members of the film's crew, Wise revealed some insider information.

"They wanted to use the science to show what it (a ) would really look like and they also wanted to do it in a way that was entertaining," said Wise. "They even wanted to know the behind-the-scenes stuff -- stuff that you wouldn’t see."

During a follow-up visit to Marvel, Wise met with Latcham and the film's crew while they were building the set in Tony Stark's lab. Wise also had a chance to meet with the film’s director, Jon Favreau, and view the set of scenes that he consulted on after they had been filmed.

"The scenes looked fine," said Wise, "I hope people enjoy the film."

The combination of Hollywood and science might seem like an unlikely pair, but they both have many things in common.

"Superficially, Hollywood and science appear to be radically different worlds, but they are both filled with passionate, intensely creative and innovative people, and that common ground comes through again and again whenever scientists and producers, directors and writers brainstorm in a room together," said Ouellette. "Science brings new ideas to the table as creative fodder; Hollywood brings science (and scientists) to vivid life in a way that captures the imagination of the general public -- it’s a win-win situation for both and Hollywood."

Explore further: Oscar Worthy Science And Engineering

Related Stories

Oscar Worthy Science And Engineering

February 18, 2010

When audiences watch a movie, they know that what they are seeing is an illusion -- and making the images appear as real as possible can be a major undertaking for any filmmaking team.

The joy is in the social hunt

April 23, 2010

The popularity of social networking websites has grown dramatically in recent years. One of the most popular sites,, now boasts more than 350 million users worldwide. With so many people interacting with each ...

Producer: teachers won't accept 'Truth'

December 25, 2006

U.S. teachers say they cannot show the environmental movie "An Inconvenient Truth" to their students because of a policy against endorsing projects.

1968 Science Fiction is Today’s Reality

May 8, 2008

The futuristic epic 2001: A Space Odyssey influenced many to fall in love with the limitless possibilities of space exploration. The movie sparked imaginations and provided a realistic preview of what our future in space ...

Recommended for you

Are palaeontologists naming too many species?

March 14, 2018

A comprehensive new study looking at variations in Ichthyosaurus, a common British Jurassic ichthyosaur (sea-going reptile) also known as 'Sea Dragons', has provided important information into recognizing new fossil species.

Pterosaurs went out with a bang, not a whimper

March 13, 2018

Fossils of six new species of pterosaurs - giant flying reptiles that flew over the heads of the dinosaurs - have been discovered by a research team led by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, revealing ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (2) May 05, 2010
Excellent, this is how we need to get science to the mainstream. It's like hiding vegetables in childrens food. If every movie or tv show could just sneak in a quick fact or two we could make a difference. Maybe a scene in Iron Man where he is explaining how a particle accelerator works and somebody asks "couldn't we create a black hole that would destroy us all?". Then Tony Stark would say "no, don't be an idiot, that wont happen".
not rated yet May 05, 2010
Hiring scientists to assist movie making realism should be standard practice for filmmakers... Its cheap and invaluable when any movie is based on imaginitive probabilities rather than obvious imposible nonsense.
not rated yet May 05, 2010
Generally, Sci fi leads and science follows.
Nice to see the two coming together at last.
5 / 5 (1) May 06, 2010
SciFi and science are natural allies: one proposes (concepts) and the other disposes (the engineering) once the fanboys get their PhD's

See Arthur C. Clarke and Star Trek for examples.
not rated yet May 06, 2010
In the movie the guy creates a new stable element in a home built ~10meter long accelerator ring. The only spot of realism there is the shape of the accelerator.
not rated yet May 06, 2010
Oh look, Ma, you can hear his steering reaction motors in space. How realistic, he doesn't use wings like in Star Wars.
not rated yet May 06, 2010
Once upon a time the (the 50s I guess) written science fiction did whatever it wanted and ignored the laws of physics. Then came along a generation of writers who knew the difference between a galaxy and a solar system and it all got much more interesting. Strangely Hollywood never ever seemed to jump on that bandwagon. I guess conservation of mass is just too inconvenient when you want an adult to shape shift to a 9ft tall ravenous wolf. And lets not get started on Avatar shall we.
1 / 5 (2) May 07, 2010
In case you don't know, this technology is becoming real. Here's a link:

not rated yet May 07, 2010
Good link! Just like the movie GI Joe.
Now, if that invisibility suit was real...
1 / 5 (2) May 07, 2010
Good link! Just like the movie GI Joe.
Now, if that invisibility suit was real...
I'd show you pictures of that one too, but you can't see it! LOL
not rated yet May 09, 2010
I guess Avatar didn't hire any real experts. They might have been told that an arrow with 2 feathers doesn't fly straight.
not rated yet May 09, 2010
As far as Ironman goes, who cares about science? The difference between the Avatar arrow with 2 feathers and Ironman is that one is a known non-working fundamental concept (it takes 3 or more feathers for an arrow to fly straight) of a weapon that has been used for centuries and the other is science fiction which has always used concepts that are not and never will be scientifically possible.
not rated yet May 09, 2010
You Jest!
Digital watches to space travel and everything in between started as science fiction.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.