Group Writing: Supervillainry

 

Cold, when all is said and done, makes a disappointing superweapon.

I mean, the comic book movies are pretty convincing. The hot superhero shoots a lava jet at the cold supervillain, whose ice ray (not to be confused with a freeze ray) sets out an opposite jet, they meet in the middle and cancel each other out in a brilliant contest of CGI. You get Frozone making walls of ice out of thin air. Or you get the Terminator, freezing in liquid nitrogen and shattering like the hopes of a Hillary voter on election night.

The trouble is that you can only make things so cold. You end up stuck against absolute zero. Heat is molecules moving; you slow ’em down you make things colder. You slow ’em enough that they stop all motion, that’s absolute zero. You can’t slow ’em even further; if you get ’em running backwards that means they’re moving again and things are heating up.

Absolute zero comes at roughly three hundred degrees C below room temperature. Lava, according to this source I just googled, at it’s coldest runs about 700 C. If you’re trying to balance that with your coldness you’ll need at least twice as much ice-ray as lava to get the job done. There’s more room in the attic than the basement.

That’s only taking the raw temperature into account. What exactly are you projecting? We called it an ice-ray up above. Let’s say you’re shooting ice-cubes. Man, doesn’t that just make it sound lame. But it does allow you to make your daring heist! Tunnel under the Gotham Gold Depository. Heat the room until the gold all melts and drips through the floor drain. Freeze it again and make your escape! What could possibly go wrong?

The melting point of gold is around 1,000 C. You’re going to want that down to about 30 C (room temperature) in order to pick the stuff up and cart it away. That’s the bad news. The good news is that gold has a much lower heat capacity than water. “Heat capacity” is a measure of how much energy you have to put into a thing to change its temperature. If you put a metal pot on a stove that metal pot will heat up real quick. The water inside it though, that’ll take some time to boil.

There’s a formula, H = mCΔT, which lets you determine how much energy you’re talking about. “m” is your mass, “C” is your heat capacity, and ΔT is how far ‘long the thermometer you want to move it. Let’s say you’re heating your water about 300, from absolute zero to room temperature. And you’re cooling your gold about a thousand, also to room temperature. Since water has a heat capacity of around 4 J/(g*K) (That’s pronounced ‘Joules per gram-Kelvin’, by the way) and gold sits around 0.13 J/(g*K), or roughly a 40th of water’s, that means you’ll end up using all the ‘cold’ in about a kilogram of water to cool off about ten kilos of gold. Profitable!

There’s one more wrinkle; the heat of formation. Broadly speaking, it takes less energy for a thing to be a solid than for it to be a liquid or a gas. A solid just sits there; liquids have their molecules wandering around. If you drop a single ice-cube in molten gold that ice cube will take some of that heat just to turn from a solid to a liquid. It’ll take more to turn from a liquid to a gas. That’s the good news for your heist. The bad news is that you’ve got to pay the piper on the other end too; it’ll take some cooling to turn your liquid gold solid. Not going to run the numbers on how much; not until someone points me to a gold depository situated on nice, easy tunneling.

All that’s discussed using some sort of super-sciency absolute zero ice cube slinger. What if we talk about a more realistic “cold-ray.” I’m thinking basically a Super Soaker that shoots liquid nitrogen. Taking another quick jaunt through the search engines we find this:

Specific heat of Nitrogen is 1.04 J/(g*K).
Latent Heat of Vaporization of Nitrogen is 2.7928 kJ/mol.

Oh, and the boiling point is at -195.8 C. Let’s say that we keep our liquid nitrogen stored at -200 C, for the convenience of the math. (You can store it at higher pressures so you don’t have to get it so darn cold, but that kinda defeats the point of our scheming.) If you spray a hapless bystander with a kilogram of liquid nitrogen how much of their body heat are you taking away?

Call it 250 kJ of energy to do the raw temperature change. Add in the fact the poor sap has to boil the nitrogen away (Heat of formation, heat of vaporization, same concept really), that’s another 200 kJ of energy. 450 kJ of freezing. What does that do for you?

The specific heat of a human body is around 3.5 J/(g*K). (Mankind, being mostly water, has much of water’s high heat capacity. Use this to your advantage when the robots attack!) Run those numbers back, 450 kJ = 50 kg*3.5 kJ/(kg*K) * ΔT. On a small adult (~110 lbs) you’d drop their temperature by about two, three degrees C.

On the one hand, three degrees is a lot; that much temperature change is enough for mild hypothermia. On the other hand, you’re assuming they’re just standing there and taking it, and that none of this is splashing, and oh-by-the-way that their human body isn’t also actively heating them. You’ll cause significant local tissue damage, but significant local tissue damage never makes the evening news. Certainly, you won’t leave your victims frozen in dramatic poses.

And when you get right down to it, a kilogram is a lot to carry around. How many kilos are you rucking? How heavy is the bottle that you’re keeping your liquid nitrogen in? How many security guards can you freeze before you have to call the whole bank-robbery off?

Why don’t you just shoot them again?

There are 27 comments.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Ladies and gentlemen, by popular demand, The Three Degrees!

    Oh…that wasn’t what you meant? 

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    But, if the superpower is the ability to absorb the heat energy and re-channel it, it can be used to freeze foes to absolute zero, and then burn your way out of wherever you are.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    You’ll be in big trouble when the supervillain Heat Exchanger comes to town.

    • #3
  4. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor
    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq
    @HankRhody

    Arahant (View Comment):

    But, if the superpower is the ability to absorb the heat energy and re-channel it, it can be used to freeze foes to absolute zero, and then burn your way out of wherever you are.

    Had an argument about this with a gaming buddy of mine; he contended that his RPG character, endowed with cryokinesis, could get things below absolute zero because the rule book didn’t say he couldn’t.

    I don’t think he read the Thermodynamics pdf I sent him.

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    But, if the superpower is the ability to absorb the heat energy and re-channel it, it can be used to freeze foes to absolute zero, and then burn your way out of wherever you are.

    Had an argument about this with a gaming buddy of mine; he contended that his RPG character, endowed with cryokinesis, could get things below absolute zero because the rule book didn’t say he couldn’t.

    I don’t think he read the Thermodynamics pdf I sent him.

    Yeah, can’t get slower than stopped, but that’s not what I’m saying.

    • #5
  6. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor
    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq
    @HankRhody

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Yeah, can’t get slower than stopped, but that’s not what I’m saying.

    Okay, if you’ve got magic on tap then go for it. If you’re relegated to mere Science! then you run into trouble.

    Body heat is pretty disorganized energy. About the only thing you can do with it normally is heat up something that’s already colder. If you were to take all the heat out of someone and use that heat to burn something else you’d be providing quite a bit of organization to it. Somehow.

    To say this doesn’t happen is putting it mildly. But hey, maybe magic boy does magic. You send the Heat Exchanger my way; together we could make millions, and completely legitimately too (if that’s his hangup.)

    • #6
  7. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Science and supervillains? We’re all nerds here, but that’s cool. You are invited to “Chill Out!” in July. Do click the link and sign up to share your own frosty post.

    • #7
  8. EtCarter Member
    EtCarter
    @EtCarter

    Wow! Thank you, @hankrhody!

    This is just the type of intel I have been looking for (not to rob a bank but to write out a  few scenarios that might make the world safe from Skynet, and make for cool entertaining fiction). 

    • #8
  9. OldDanRhody Member
    OldDanRhody
    @OldDanRhody

    Zaphod Beeblebrox:

    “I’m up to here with cool, okay? I am so amazingly cool you could keep a side of meat in me for a month.

    • #9
  10. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    It’s something like puts and calls.  Puts have an absolute total value because the value of the underlying asset has a floor of zero.  For a call, the value of the asset has no limit.  So in the latter case, your exposure is infinite.

    Sorry for the tangent.

    • #10
  11. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Oh, and PV=nRT

    • #11
  12. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    What’s cooler than cool? Ice cold!

     

    • #12
  13. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    OldDanRhody (View Comment):

    Zaphod Beeblebrox:

    “I’m up to here with cool, okay? I am so amazingly cool you could keep a side of meat in me for a month.

    Every now and again I’m driven to say something nice about great human beings. But I try not to get habit-forming about it. 

    • #13
  14. Patrick McClure Coolidge
    Patrick McClure
    @Patrickb63

    Mr. Freeze actually siphoned the heat off into an alternate universe. That’s not really a freeze ray, it’s a wormhole /heatsink generator that removes the heat from all molecular movementp and dumps it into hell.

    • #14
  15. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor
    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq
    @HankRhody

    Patrick McClure (View Comment):

    Mr. Freeze actually siphoned the heat off into an alternate universe. That’s not really a freeze ray, it’s a wormhole /heatsink generator that removes the heat from all molecular movementp and dumps it into hell.

    Wild!

    • #15
  16. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq: But it does allow you to make your daring heist! Tunnel under the Gotham Gold Depository. Heat the room until the gold all melts and drips through the floor drain. Freeze it again and make your escape! What could possibly go wrong?

    In the words of Dr Horrible, whose plan instead relied on a transmatter ray and filled several Ziplock bags with liquid gold: “It’s not about making money. It’s about taking money! It’s about upsetting the status quo… because the status is not quo!”

     

    • #16
  17. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    What’s cooler than cool? Ice cold!

    Ice, Ice, Baby!

    • #17
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq (View Comment):
    You send the Heat Exchanger my way; together we could make millions, and completely legitimately too (if that’s his hangup.)

    Legitimately? What fun is that?

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq (View Comment):
    You send the Heat Exchanger my way; together we could make millions, and completely legitimately too (if that’s his hangup.)

    Legitimately? What fun is that?

    Remember, “Arahant: Midas of Spies!” is on your local newsstands each month from the good folks at RSR Comics 

    • #19
  20. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Although not quite a supervillain, he does get a cold shower.

    From the James Bond film “GoldenEye”, I think they actually get the physics close to right – although it doesn’t say exactly how much liquid nitrogen splashes over him – it looks like quite a lot.

    • #20
  21. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret
    @CarolJoy

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    But, if the superpower is the ability to absorb the heat energy and re-channel it, it can be used to freeze foes to absolute zero, and then burn your way out of wherever you are.

    Had an argument about this with a gaming buddy of mine; he contended that his RPG character, endowed with cryokinesis, could get things below absolute zero because the rule book didn’t say he couldn’t.

    I don’t think he read the Thermodynamics pdf I sent him.

    I think, Hank, that if you took the time to explain just who this super hero character character Kelvin is, the Thermodynamics pdf might become clearer, and not just for your gaming buddy.

    • #21
  22. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    I was watching a sciencey clip on youtube this morning – did you know that its impossible to freeze helium? even if you get it down to absolute zero it will not freeze. There is enough zero-point quantum energy in the helium atoms that prevents the liquid from changing states.

    Here is the clip:

    You can solidify helium – but not through temperature – if you pressurize helium to 140 000+ Bar helium will become a super solid.

     

    • #22
  23. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor
    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq
    @HankRhody

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    did you know that its impossible to freeze helium?

    I did know that, but

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    if you pressurize helium to 140 000+ Bar helium will become a super solid.

    I never knew this part.

    • #23
  24. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    did you know that its impossible to freeze helium?

    I did know that, but

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    if you pressurize helium to 140 000+ Bar helium will become a super solid.

    I never knew this part.

    For me, stuff like this always conjures an inability to even imagine pressures at, say, the center of Jupiter. 

    • #24
  25. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    did you know that its impossible to freeze helium?

    I did know that, but

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    if you pressurize helium to 140 000+ Bar helium will become a super solid.

    I never knew this part.

    For me, stuff like this always conjures an inability to even imagine pressures at, say, the center of Jupiter.

    You don’t have to go that far to find incredible environments. Look at the pressures at the bottom of the pacific ocean nearly 3 miles under water, also Venus is incredible – not because its high pressure but also its heat – metals are liquid on the surface of Venus. Almost as warm as Phoenix.

    • #25
  26. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential
    @GLDIII

    This does not look like any progress on building my computer; stalling with treatises on Thermodynamics is bad juju. -NYTimes review

    • #26
  27. EtCarter Member
    EtCarter
    @EtCarter

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    did you know that its impossible to freeze helium?

    I did know that, but

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    if you pressurize helium to 140 000+ Bar helium will become a super solid.

    I never knew this part.

    Hmm. Good to know.

    much obliged, ricochet friend!

    • #27

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