It Has Science: Chemistry with the Hulk!

Hulk_AcidThe Hulk has always had my attention, especially in recent years when the science has been played up and inserted into plot elements. Bruce Banner is a physicist, after all – and in comics, “physicist” often means, “knows everything about all kinds of science.”

I’m a big believer in giving accurate science credit whenever and wherever it shows up, and most recently, a simple reaction can be seen in The Totally Awesome Hulk #3 by Greg Pak , Frank Cho and Sonia Oback. Currently, the Hulk is supergenius teenager Amadeus Cho who seems to have an…at times tenuous grasp on the Hulk’s rage. Amadeus is being guided by his sister, Madame Curie “Maddy” Cho, and She-Hulk has been visiting since issue #2 to lend a hand.

Since his debut issue, the Hulk has been fighting monsters as well as Lady Hellbender, a monster collector (and alien queen of Seknarf Nine) with mixed results. And to make the mixed bag even worse, Fin Fang Foom showed up a the end of issue #2.

Hulk_BaseThe fight between the Hulk and the giant dragon raged through much of issue #3, but when Foom spewed fire mucus at Hulk, we learned that the stuff is actually a highly corrosive acid. Remembering basic chemistry, Cho-Hulk grabs a barrel of sodium hydroxide (he conveniently landed near it during a fight), and stuffs it down Fin Fang Foom’s gullet.

“That’s right buddy…I turned your acid into water and salt!”

One solid hit later, Fin Fang Foom was sleeping it off, and Cho was basking in the glory. And then…

What? I’m not about to spoil the story for you – go buy the issue at your local comic shop or online at Comixology.

So – that dumping of sodium hydroxide down the dragon’s throat? Cho was looking to cause a neutralization reaction with the acid that Fin Fang Foom was spewing out.

Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is a strong base – one sodium atom bonded to a hydroxide ion. By itself, sodium hydroxide is corrosive and is often called lye or caustic soda. Barring any work in a lab or industry, you probably most often run into NaOH as an active ingredient in drain cleaner.

Hulk_NeutralizerWhen sodium hydroxide meets an acid, a double-replacement reaction takes place. That is, the bond between the sodium and the hydroxide breaks, allowing the sodium to bond with the negative ion of the acid, while the hydroxide bonds with the hydrogen of the acid. It’s also called a neutralization reaction and its product are always water and salt.

As a reaction, it looks like this:

HX + NaOH -> NaX + HOH

Where X is a nonmetal, negative ion (an anion) and HX is the acid. Oh, and HOH can be written as H2O. The sodium bonding with an anion creates a salt.

If we look at perhaps the most common neutralization reaction with sodium hydroxide for instance, we can see how it reacts with hydrochloric acid (it’s in our stomachs as a part of our digestive process):

HCl + NaOH -> NaCl + H2O

NaCl is table salt, which is in virtually every kitchen in the world, but remember – a neutralization reaction produces water and a salt, not “the” salt that we know and love on our fries.

As the Hulk jokingly implied, Fin Fang Foom was cranky due to acid reflux, and treating it with a base was the right idea, and handled correctly. Although one thing that Cho didn’t mention, and we’re going to assume that’s what was being shown with the piles of white fluffy stuff in Fin Fang Foom’s mouth after the sodium hydroxide – the reaction of NaOH with a strong acid is exothermic, meaning it releases heat. Yeah, I’m going with giant steam cloud coming out of Foom’s mouth. That’s what I’m going with.

So – thanks to Greg Pak and company for getting a little bit of accurate science into a comic, and hopefully catching the interest and curiosity of a future Amadeus or Maddy Cho.

For more on sodium hydroxide, check out the Wikipedia page here.