Magneto redux

In my first post about Magneto I failed to discuss the inventive way he escaped from his plastic prison. His accomplice seduced the prison guard, sedated him, and gave him an injection of some metallic liquid. Magneto then ripped out the metal from the guard and used it to burst out of his jail.

Magneto Escapes

“Magneto uses his powers to lift a security guard from the ground (magnetically) and then kills him by extracting the iron-rich blood from his body (nothing too graphic, but we do see a reddish mist floating through the air plus many tiny bloody spots on the guard’s shirt). He then uses several small metallic balls to smash through his confines and then hit two guards, knocking them to the floor (injuring or killing them).” — Review Site.
Magneto Escapes

Obviously we know that usually humans contain around 4-5 grammes of iron, in molecular form (most famously in the centre of the haemoglobin molecule) — Either this is not enough for an impressive prison escape, or it is not possible for Magneto to manipulate with a magnetic field.

Levitating frog
Magnetically Levitating Frog

Magneto’s power is to manipulate magnetic fields. With a suitable magnetic field it should be possible to diamagnetically levitate water or, as famously demonstrated, frogs. Perhaps smuggling frogs into the prison would just make a mess rather than smash through the plastic walls.

Perhaps the injection was of metallic clusters large enough to have ferromagnetic properties, if it is possible this could be injected into a body without causing significant damage (anyway the prison guard is going to die). For a ferromagnetic material it’s prefered to have a single domain particle below a certain size, since the domain wall has a certain energy. What the minimum size is for ferromagnetic properties I don’t know… if we assume it requires the free movement of electrons then it could be around 30-50 atoms which has been shown to be a critical amount for metal-nonmetal transition in transition-metal clusters.

It would also be consistent with Magneto only having the ability to manipulate existing magnetic fields, maybe the guard was injected with metal clusters which are already magnetised.

The guard was injected with around 1 litre of liquid, which had a metallic appearance. Around 20 g – 100 g of metal appeared to be formed by magneto by after extracting the iron from the guard.

Elemental composition of the body source.

Element 	Mass of element in a 70-kg person
oxygen 	       43 kg
carbon 	       16 kg
hydrogen 	7 kg
nitrogen 	1.8 kg
calcium 	1.0 kg
phosphorus 	780 g
potassium 	140 g
sulfur 	 	140 g
sodium 	 	100 g
chlorine 	95 g
magnesium 	19 g
iron 	 	4.2 g
fluorine 	2.6 g
zinc 	 	2.3 g
silicon 	1.0 g
rubidium 	0.68 g
strontium 	0.32 g
bromine 	0.26 g
lead 	 	0.12 g
copper 	 	72 mg
aluminum 	60 mg
cadmium 	50 mg
cerium  	40 mg
barium 	 	22 mg
iodine 	 	20 mg
tin 	 	20 mg
titanium 	20 mg
boron 	 	18 mg
nickel  	15 mg
selenium 	15 mg
chromium 	14 mg
manganese 	12 mg
arsenic 	7 mg
lithium 	7 mg
cesium  	6 mg
mercury 	6 mg
germanium 	5 mg
molybdenum 	5 mg
cobalt 	 	3 mg
antimony 	2 mg
silver 	 	2 mg
niobium 	1.5 mg
zirconium 	1 mg
lanthanium 	0.8 mg
gallium 	0.7 mg
tellurium 	0.7 mg
yttrium 	0.6 mg
bismuth 	0.5 mg
thallium 	0.5 mg
indium 	 	0.4 mg
gold 	 	0.2 mg
scandium 	0.2 mg
tantalum 	0.2 mg
vanadium 	0.11 mg
thorium 	0.1 mg
uranium 	0.1 mg
samarium 	50 µg
beryllium 	36 µg
tungsten 	20 µg


  1. “if we assume it requires the free movement of electrons then it could be around 30-50 atoms”

    This is quite a good estimate Mathew, but perhaps not come about in the best way.

    Useful single-domain particles need to be able to keep all the atoms in their alignment in the absence of an external magnetic field. The lower limit to particle size will then come when a single phonon of thermal agitation is enough to turn all the particles. We can estimate this smallest useful size by comparing thermal energy with the anisotropy energy of a volume l^3. When Kl^3=kT thermal randomizing of the domain orientation is likely. At room temperature (300 Kelvin) with the typical figure for K of 10^5 J m^{-3} we find l is about 3nm, or 30 atoms breadth as you estimated.

    Of course, since we have a cube root, our answer is quite sensitive to our estimations, and if we put the thermal energy a bit higher we might have to increase l by up to an order of magnitude which would make your estimate a little on the low side.

    If our particles are too small, we won’t be able to expect them to remain magnetized in any one direction for long. Such small particles would be said to be superparamagnetic as each one behaves like a single atom in a paramagnetic substance.

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