Why Does Tony Stark Have an Arc Reactor in His Chest?

Throughout Marvel’s phase two and three movies, Tony Stark’s commendable character development and intelligence leave the audience awestruck. The genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist was always fighting to be a better person. Upon realizing the extent of terror created with usage of his weapons, he tried and made amends to restore peace. He started from discontinuing armaments production to even risking his life to save the world. Stark’s journey of becoming Iron man began with Dr. Ho Yinsen saving his life by inserting an electromagnet, charged with car batteries, in his chest. From here on Tony, like the genius he was, kept on improving the technology and even creating a mini Arc reactor with Dr. Yinsen’s help. It still leaves a few questions regarding the electromagnet on Stark’s chest unanswered so let us dive deeper into them.

How Did Tony Stark Get the Shrapnel in His Chest?

In Iron Man (2008), we see Stark demonstrating a fleet of Jericho missiles while advocating the use of weapons for maintaining world peace. In the following scene, he gets caught up in an explosion and kidnapped by a terrorist organization, Ten Rings (later shown in Shang Chi). The explosion lodged a bunch of shrapnel in Tony’s chest; with no other options to save Tony’s life, Dr. Ho Yinsen, a fellow captive, inserted an electromagnet in his chest to keep the shrapnel from entering Tony’s heart.

Upon regaining consciousness, Tony was asked to develop missiles for the organisation. Instead, he, with the help of Dr. Yinsen, who was keen on making a change in what might be his last days, developed a miniature Arc reactor and an armor (Mark I) to help them escape and keep the electromagnet in his chest charged. Any energy source could have done the work, but an Arc reactor complemented and alleviated Tony’s style.

What Is an Arc Reactor?

The arc reactor is a fusion type energy source with a Palladium core created by Tony Stark and Dr. Yinsen. It formed the power source for the first Iron man armor, which Tony used for his escape. According to the Marvel cinematic universe, the Arc reactor was first created by Howard Stark and Obadiah Stane. Later, Tony and Dr. Yinsen developed a miniature version within three months of their captivity. 

Later, with the help of Howard Stark’s theories, Tony made improvements in the Arc reactor and rediscovered a clean and safe energy alternative to Palladium core, which was poisoning his body and thus, saved his life. The shrapnel in Tony’s chest was always a driving force that made him progress as his life was on the line:

“There are people who say progress is dangerous, but none of those idiots ever had to live with a chest full of shrapnel.”

Why Didn’t Tony Undergo Shrapnel Surgery as Soon as He Came Back to New York After His Kidnapping?

Tony Stark only decided to go through shrapnel surgery at the end of Iron-man 3 (2013). There might be a few reasons for this delay:

  • The microscopic shrapnel shards were impossible for the human eye to see. Even CT scans or X-rays would not work and an MRI might have turned life-threatening for Tony. Since the surgery had serious complications, it was only possible with a super skilled surgeon. Although it is not difficult for Sci-Fi to come up with a technology to fix this, the creators might have prolonged it for Iron Man’s character development.
  • Ever since Obadiah’s Iron-Monger incident, Stark has been careful and secretive about the Arc reactor, an incredible energy source prone to misuse. Even the American government was keen to get the Arc reactor, which no one else but Stark could develop. Therefore, Stark probably had a suspicion that someone might try to get their hands on the Arc reactor while Stark lay unconscious during the surgery.
  • After defeating Chitauri and Loki in Avengers (2012), Stark was suffering from PTSD, which made him too dependent on his technology. He created an Iron legion to safeguard civilians during an attack and was working on Ultron with Banner. In simple words, Tony did not want himself to be separated from his Arc reactor to save him from any spontaneous attacks.

Why Did Tony Decide to Get the Surgery Done?

In Iron man 3, Tony discovered the Extremis, which enabled fast recovery of his heart and reduced the risk of the surgery’s failure. He also found a Chinese doctor who could perform the surgery, as shown in the Chinese version of the movie. Moreover, Tony’s trauma and dependency on his suits grew too much to the point that it began affecting his personal life. One of his armors also attacked Pepper when Tony had a panic attack in his sleep. During Iron man 3, Tony lost his house in an attack and fled with the help of an armor that soon ran out of battery. Then, Tony had to manage everything without anything he earlier thought was crucial to keep things in place. It made him realize that he was much more than his suits.

“My armor, it was never a distraction or a hobby, it was a cocoon. And now, I am a changed man. You can take away my house, all my tricks, and toys. But one thing you can’t take away…I am Iron man.”

Is Tony Stark Still Using the Electromagnet?

No, it is the ARC reactor that he carries on his chest, the electromagnet is not there anymore…

After getting the surgery done, Tony gave each of his suits their Arc reactor and appeared in the movies Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and Spiderman: Homecoming without the Arc reactor.

Before the impending arrival of Thanos, in Avengers: Infinity War, Tony is seen flaunting a new Arc reactor on his chest. He explains it is an RT unit for nanobots used by Mark 50 bleeding-edge suit. When Pepper asks him why is he wearing it again? he shrugs away her doubts by saying, “it is a housing unit for nano parts.” Therefore, it was a precaution he was taking because their enemy was “the mighty Thanos.”

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