Johnny Storm : Flame On!

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3692831-human-torch-lalala-peqAfter my last post I think it’s time to heat things up. Enter Johnny Storm AKA The Human Torch[1]Human Torch bio courtesy of Marvel. Brash and impetuous it was no shock that after the exposure to cosmic radiation, that gave birth to the Fantastic Four, Johnny developed a power in keeping with his personality. That boy got fiery.

Now to be frank, I’m not entirely sure I see a way to explain the mass amount of flames and excessive temperatures he endures without burning his skin off his bones. Don’t get me wrong, there are animals out there that can tolerate some pretty crazy temperatures; the Sahara Desert Ant being the first one to spring to mind. These little babies can survive heats of up to about 70 degrees Cesius, which is quite frankly impressive. My Scottish skin can’t cope with 20+ degrees Celsius without sun cream. A recent breakthrough has identified how those little guys do it; it’s hair! To cut a lengthy but interesting explanation short, the Saharan has a body covered in uniquely shaped silver hairs, which reflect sunlight and shed heat.[2]Further reading on Saharan Desert Ants Pretty cool huh? Sadly, Storm wasn’t covered in silver hair last I checked and even if he was I still don’t think it would stop him turning to ash.

Given that we’re in the land of comic books, I can only assume that there has been some alteration to his physiology courtesy of the radiation that’s allowed him to become essentially fireproof. I’m going to run with that theory because I honestly don’t have a better one.

FireTWith that cleared up, let’s talk about fire. What is fire? From a chemical point of view, fire is simply rapid oxidation. Oxidation, as you may have guessed from the name, is the addition of oxygen to another element or molecule to form a compound. If this reaction happens rapidly then boom; flame on! The fast reaction means the release of heat energy is large, thus creating fire. Oxidation is a pretty common occurrence in life, it’s also the cause of rust for example but in the case of rust it happens over such a long period of time that nothing bursts into flames. Sadly.

In the case of the Human Torch he starts the fire without any initial source of heat. How he achieves this is where it gets interesting. Storm’s sister Sue, or if you prefer The Invisible Woman, also developed powers as a result of the cosmic radiation. Her nervous system generates a field that allows her to manipulate the electrostatic fields around her; I’ll talk about the details behind this in another post. I believe that similarly, Johnny’s nervous system generates a field that causes combustion. It performs the first part of the chain reaction, breaking the bonds of a combustible material and combining them with oxygen. After that there’s already enough heat generating to maintain combustion.

This doesn’t really explain why the Human Torch is always on fire, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d assume he’s using his own sweat to fuel the fire. Pretty gross, but effective nonetheless. Sweat is basically water, take that and break it into hydrogen and oxygen, and voilĂ  we have hydrogen to burn. This once again forms water and the cycle continues on. The flaw here is that the law of conservation of energy[3]Further reading on the conservation of energy would eventually force this loop to collapse somewhere down the line. There’s only so much one person can sweat!

Theoretically with all the mutagenic effects from the cosmic radiation there is also the possibility that the Human Torch actually exudes his own unique fuel. This bit is going to get a bit hazy because I don’t really have a fully constructed theory behind it but this fuel would have to be in some way related to phosphorous; given that phosphorous ignites on contact with air. If we assume that the oxide that forms upon burning breaks down again at a given temperature then we can effectively set up a combustion loop. As far as ‘recharging’ his fuel goes if his body modified itself to create it then presumably his body could also have modified itself to reabsorb the unoxidated fuel. This would mean he would always be fully charged and ready to ‘flame on’ for as long as the oxygen held out.

Sadly for us mere mortals the old idiom still stands; ‘If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned’.

 

References   [ + ]

1. Human Torch bio courtesy of Marvel
2. Further reading on Saharan Desert Ants
3. Further reading on the conservation of energy