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I'm presently working on a flintlock fantasy about a Half-Orc woman. In my story setting, Orcs are not an ugly race of monsters, as they are in Lord of the Rings, nor are they exactly like the Orcs features in World of Warcraft (though they do have a few similarities in terms of their appearance.) One thing I've been considering is that, once an Orc or Half-Orc reaches his full height, his bones undergo an innate magical process in which they are somehow transmuted so they are at least as strong and durable as stainless steel, perhaps stronger. The Orcs refer to this process as "the Reforging," and it is very painful. It lasts several days and, at times, the Orc's bones can be seen glowing beneath the skin. Most Orc cultures treat this as a final rite of passage, seeing it as the last step into adulthood.

What I'm having a hard time figuring out is what exactly the Reforging does. I'm trying to keep Arcane Magic in my setting as science-based as possible. You can't turn someone into a frog with Arcane Magic, only bend some of the laws of physics and manipulate matter and energy in various ways. Thus, I need an explanation for what the Reforging does in order to make the bones so hard to break that has at least some scientific plausibility, even if the magical aspects allow some fudging of the normal rules.

It occurred to me that the Reforging process could be making a network of carbon nanotubes within the Orc's bones. However, I'm not sure how much of a difference these would make in something like bones, which is why I could use some feedback on this idea.

Like I said, I don't want the bones to be unbreakable. I'm not interested in a race of Wolverines with skeletons that are indestructible, just strong enough to take some serious pounding and remain intact. (Orcs are meant to be tanks, to use RPG terminology.) Additionally, Orc bones are the same to what Humans have, just bigger, more dense, and having bone marrow that's a bit more efficient at creating different types of blood cells.

So, would the carbon nanotubes in the bones be a plausible explanation for how the bones get so durable? And, just how durable would they be, exactly? Is stainless steel an accurate estimation of their strength in this kind of scenario? Or is it too strong or too weak? Let me know what you think. Thanks!

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  • $\begingroup$ Hey- cool idea! I (and some others) are pretty lazy with this sort of stuff- would you mind putting your final question in bold so we have somewhere to start? Means you'll get better answers faster. $\endgroup$
    – mcRobusta
    Sep 26, 2019 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Which of the many questions in the body and the title is the actual question? Voting to close as unclear until you can edit to clarify. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2019 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Not exactly carbon-nanotubing, but if you want to go with a material that actually exists in nature, there is goethite. It is the mineral/protein composite used in limpet teeth which make them the strongest biological material known to man. bbc.com/news/science-environment-31500883 $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Sep 26, 2019 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Would carbon fiber be a good choice to strengthen human bones, and how would that work? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 26, 2019 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ By some measures bone is already stronger (by mass) than stainless steel. Early artificial hips were subject to sudden failure if people jumped, stumbled, ran, or otherwise put unusual stress on them. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2019 at 22:41

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Carbon nanotubes have a fantastic tensile strength, meaning that they work great when you pull them.

Bones work mostly in compression, and compressing a long and thin object like a nanotube easily buckle it.

But, as anyone riding a bike with a carbon fiber fork can tell you, if you weave the fiber it the nanotubes in a proper way, you can get the fibers to work well also in compression.

You would need to embed them in a matrix, and you have it, and doing it in a living bone would be painful, and you are open to it, too.

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Yes, carbon nanotubes would definitely make bones stronger / more durable. There are different types of carbon nanotubes, with multi-walled carbon nanotubes ("MWNTs") having the highest tensile strength. Wikipedia has a decent overview of the properties of nanotubes in general.

Note the overall tensile strength of MWNT is observed to be anywhere from ten to one hundred times greater than that of steel. So no, stainless steal is not an accurate estimation of their strength; the carbon nanotubes are much, much stronger.

The orcs, if at all similar in structure to humans, will undoubtedly have lots of carbon in their bodies already. It makes sense if your magical hand-waving includes a process (possibly a hormone-induced change at certain ages, much like a "second puberty") could kick in and initiate the process of the bone structure reforming with carbon nanotubes inside or through them.

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Why limit yourself to carbon nanotubes. Consider artifical diamond done in something like a Sierpinsky solid,Sierpinski tetrahedron or Menger Sponge?

Advantages: Depending on the number of iterations, very low weight. High strength mass ratio.

Also while you are at it, replace the mere protein chain muscle fibers with carbon nano tubes that are concentric and threaded so that they could act much like turnbuckles.

Advantages:

  • It takes no energy to hold something
  • Lower friction
  • lighter weight.

Menger Sponge

This in principle means that your orcs could visually be little more than skin and bones; look anorexically thin, but still be very very strong.

This changes the face of combat. With low mass comes low inertia. They would be very fast, but if you connected with them, you'd send them into next Tuesday. Light weight means they would float well, and probably swim extremely well, although not very fast. (Lumpy shape, not streamlined) It would also mean they would have to pick up rocks to keep from blowing away in a high wind.

(For comparison, for people moving around in 70 mph winds requires great care, and doing combat in those winds would be impossible. Some of this is strength, some is the relative power of gusts and eddies.)

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Yes and No.

Bone self repairs micro fractures. Carbon nano-tubes do not.

So, the tubes would initially make the bone resistant to fracture but over time, that resistance would be lost. Every time the bone flexes, there is a chance that a fiber of the nano-tubes would break. That will build up until enough are lost that it doesn't do the job.

So, yes in the short term. Some kind of maintenance and replacement plan would be necessary for long term use.

Also, fragments of nano-tubes floating around the body can cause health problems, including cancer.

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