Real Life Superheroes: Tony Stark, Iron Man’s Suit, and Ancient History

Learn How to Become a Real Life Superhero Through the Power of Math and Engineering 

We all know Iron Man, the super-technologically advanced suit-wearing superhero. Thinking of his back story, we have Tony Stark, who self-engineered the prosthetic suit that sets him apart from his contemporaries. Thanks to his own ingenuity, Stark garners enough power to protect the world.

As we watch or read about this superhero, we are lead to two questions:

  1. Will these suits become a reality in the future? Besides the weapons Iron Man bears, his suit fulfills common wishes that we, as humans, often express -- i.e. to fly and to be less susceptible to danger. Given the way we are quickly seeing our desires manifest as various technological devices, it seems safe to assume that someone will invent ways to fulfill these dreams, even if not exactly through an Iron Man-like exoskeleton.

  2. Even if something like an Iron Man suit is possible, doesn’t it seem impossible that one person will create and perfect it by him- or herself? In other words, don’t super-technologically advanced engineering breakthroughs depend on whole teams of engineers, sometimes even working over generations? In response to this question, we might conclude that Iron Man is a fun and creative way to project our wishes for the future. Yet at the end of the day, he is a mythic character -- i.e. there will never be someone so extraordinary compared to his contemporaries as Tony Stark. 

The History of Real Life Superheroes

But, before we jump to the conclusion that Tony Stark is just some archetype, and that there will never be a single human who can wield unimaginably self-amassed power, maybe we should review some history. Back in 214 BC, the Roman Republic was fighting the Second Punic War, also known as the war against Hannibal. In the midst of the war, a well-known military campaign to take over the city of Syracuse took place. This battle, the Siege of Syracuse, was led by the famous roman military commander Marcus Claudius Marcellus. What Marcellus may have mistaken for an easy victory, dragged on for two whole years.

At the time, the Roman army was like a contemporary super-power. The city of Syracuse was protected  by super-technologically advanced defensive weapons. One such weapon has been called the “Iron Hand” -- a claw made of iron which would extend out from the city walls to seize ships and sink them.

These defensive weapons were designed by a single person, perhaps the living proto-Iron Man: Archimedes! Students of math and engineering may remember this ancient thinker as the developer of numerous scientific methods and inventions. Others learn of Archimedes in school as the man who yelled out “Eureka!” while running naked in the streets after discovering a way to measure density while taking a bath. Yet, he was also the master-mind, who single-handedly designed the Syrian defense systems that the Roman army, sending in their best weapons and soldiers, could not surpass. (
Check out this site for more illustrations of Archimedes inventions.)

Even though the Siege of Syracuse ended with Marcellus giving up direct military engagement, the city was captured. Archimedes’ inventions caused unimaginable difficulty, but Marcellus eventually succeeded by sneaking a few soldiers into Syracuse during the celebration of a holiday, which led to the city falling from within. Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier, but not before the original Tony Stark had showed the world what one person can achieve.

The Power of Math

Today, the future promises to fulfill some of our wildest dreams through the advancement of technology. Both the comic super-hero, Iron Man, and the historical mathematical genius, Archimedes, show us the power of knowledge to advance technology. Mathematical knowledge allows people to unlock the potential to transform their imagined desires into reality. With this power in mind, math class can transform from a subject that everyone needs to cover, into the training needed to make your dreams into a reality.

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