DC managed to have an interesting a physics problem in the debut of Firestorm in his/their origin story Firestorm the Nuclear Man #1 (Mar 1978):
“A million ergs of radiation pour through…” Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein. We’ve seen similar amounts of energy before when we talked about Hulk falling. An erg is a g-cm2sec-2 which is 10-7 of a joule (kg-m2sec-2). So a million ergs is 106 x 10-7 = 10-1 joule, which is 0.1 joules. For comparison, in an electrical circuit one joule is equivalent to a watt-second. That is one watt x one second. One tenth of a joule will not keep a light bulb burning very long.
Sounds dramatic but if we do the math not a lot happened to these two.
Firestorm’s origin story that is best described as the exact opposite of Spider-Man’s. An athletic Ronnie Raymond goes to Bradley High School where he is the odd person out because “… here what counts is academic accomplishment“ per Big Nerd on Campus Cliff Carmichael. In reality, after Bronx Science High that list becomes vanishingly small in the USA. For universities, the set expands a little, probably to MIT, Caltech, and Chicago (“Where fun goes to die!”).
Borrowing from Marvel, the alliteration and word games are in full play: Ronnie Raymond (future hero alter ego component), Doreen Day (object of affection), and Cliff Carmichael (BNOC).
To make an impression on Doreen, Ronnie joins the anti-nuclear group Coalition to Resist Atomic Power (C.R.A.P.) where he becomes the catspaw of its covert terrorist Eddie Earhart.
Professor Martin Stein, a Nobel Prize winner in the story, is building a new nuclear reactor. As a Nobelist he’s thirty years too late. Enrico Fermi, Nobel Prize winner in 1938, brought the first self-sustaining nuclear pile (CP-1) online December 2, 1942 at the University of Chicago. After that the scientists left the construction of nuclear reactors to engineers. However, in true myopic scientist spirit (making it because he can but completely unconcerned if he should), Stein is determined to forge ahead with his creation: “injunction or no, I’m placing this plant online tonight!”
In a novel re-working of the Jekyll-Hyde story, these two are fused together to create a hybrid character who now has the power to alter his own atoms and switch his atomic structure at will.
Once Firestorm gained a foothold in the comic book universe nuclear themed origins became part of the DC repertoire. Neutron followed in Action #525 (Nov 1981) and Nuclear Family (get it? get it?) in Outsiders #1 (Nov 1985).