1. CrimsonWolf
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    CrimsonWolf Member

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    Electricity and Heart Attacks

    Discussion in 'Research' started by CrimsonWolf, Jun 16, 2008.

    I'm currently in the process of working on a Sci-Fi novel and have a question about electricity and nerves. It might be a difficult question, but if anyone has any insight that would be very helpful.

    The first question is... can a strong enough electric shock give a person heart failure and kill them instantly? Or if not a heart attack... then what would kill them?

    Second Question is are the nerves in your body currents of electricity? If so, with futuristic technology, would it be possible to assume there would be some way to increase the amount of electricity generated from them?

    Number three, if I wrote about a weapon in the future (mainly designed for assassination) where a human could have strong currents of electricity planted in tubes in their body (or use what they have in their nerves and amplify it) and could then touch people to give them a shock strong enough to inflict heart failure... would that be believable?

    It probably all sounds a bit crazy and I bet doesn't make much scientific sense, but if anyone could help me out here, that would be great.
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    An electric shock across the heart will cause the heart to stop. If that's what you mean by heart failure, then yes. A heart attack is something different- the death of a piece of heart tissue, due do deprivation of blood, oxygen, or something of that sort.

    Nerves communicate messages with chemical potential electricity. And with futuristic technology, you could theoretically do just about anything. Though to what end, I'm not sure...

    In theory the electric shock thing might be possible, but the electric current would be a danger to the person themselves... And also, the current would have to cross the target's heart in order to stop it...

    To be honest, I don't think it's particularly believable, and seems a bit overcomplicated. But it's your story, and thus you can do whatever you like.
     
  3. CrimsonWolf
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    CrimsonWolf Member

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    Well, I basically need a way to kill someone by touching them and I was considering whether that would be possible. If I was to assume some sort of "telepathic" powers without any real scientific explanation, would readers happily go along with that?
     
  4. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I suppose... You could always suggest some highly potent nerve agent, absorbed through the skin.
     
  5. InkDancer
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    InkDancer Senior Member

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    Electricity can stop the heart or disrupt its normal rhythm. All the valves have to open and close and precisely the right times in order to maintain blood flow. Defibrillation essentially hits the "reset" button, which allows the heart to resume normal function if it is capable of such.

    Perhaps your character could apply electrical pulses at the proper frequency, magnitude, and duration to mess up the normal heart rhythm, therefore putting them into ventricular fibrillation? There would be a time frame of few minutes before the victim died, but it might be difficult to diagnose the cause.

    As far as the human body storing electricity, I would suggest you do some research on the electric eel. That's a biological mechanism for electricity storage and release that already exists in nature.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A neural toxin, as Banzai said, or possibly an alkaloid like digitalis. Or you could postulate an energy force that suppresses metabolic activity while your character is in contact, resulting in a deep shock/coma. If that energy depolarizes the neurons making up the nervous system, it would kill instantly.
     
  7. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't forget, CrimsonWolf, the heart is just a muscle and the electrical pulse that initiates each contraction of the heart muscle originates in the brain. Rather than "attack" the heart directly, I would be far more inclined to create some physical, chemical or biological assault on the brain...more specifically on the brain stem containing the medulla oblongata - the part of the brain that controls the autonomic nervous system, including heart rate.

    As others mentioned, disrupting the nervous system is believable. In fact, potassium chloride in lethal injections causes the heart muscle to stop beating and it accomplishes this (as Cogito mentioned) through depolarization of the nerves.

    Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

    "When used in lethal injection, bolus potassium injection affects the electrical conduction of heart muscle. Elevated potassium, or hyperkalemia, causes the resting electrical potential of the heart muscle cells to be higher than normal. Without a negative resting potential, cardiac cells cannot generate impulses that lead to contraction."

    For the rest of the discussion, go to:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lethal_injection#Potassium_chloride

    During the Cold War, Soviet counter espionage agents were reported to have tiny needles in the tips of pens, umbrellas and other inconspicuous places, that, when pushed against the victim's body, would inject lethal chemicals. The recipient of the subtle attack rarely knew they were about to die.

    http://www.answers.com/topic/biochemical-assassination-weapons

    .....NaCl
     
  8. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    NaCl's suggestion is a good one. How about a ring, with a small needle on the inside, with a tiny amount of such an agent. Since it's sci-fi, you could feasably use a poison more powerful than potassium chloride, which would only need a tiny amount, stored in the ring. All it would take would be a handshake, and... yeah. The assassin would have to be careful not to get himself by accident, though.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Because it is SF, you could also have the assassin transfer nanobots by touch. They could either be injected, or have the capability of burrowing through the skin on their own. Once inside the body, they could travel to the heart (or elsewhere, for different attack modes, and wait for a signal. At a time of the assassin's choosing, they could disrupt the electrical signals to the heart, causing a fatal arrhythmia. They could then disperse or self destruct, leaving little evidence that they had been there.
     
  10. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    That's a point. Depending on when the story is set, nanotechnology could be used to great effect. They could even be used to gradually have an effect on the body, mimicking an illness.
     
  11. CrimsonWolf
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    CrimsonWolf Member

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    Ideally I need it through touch, not by even something like a ring or a small needle, but thanks for all the suggestions guys. It's a great help. I hadn't thought of nanobots, that might well work. Also, the story is set about 100-150 years in the future, so would something like that be plausible? Or is it not long enough for technology to have developed that far?

    Second thing. NaCl, I like the idea of an assault on the brain instead, now that you point that out it makes a lot more sense. If we forget about the use of nanobots for a minute, would it be possible to perhaps store some chemical agent inside the users hand (perhaps protected against their own skin but some sort of plating inserted in the hand) and then if the assassin releases a little of it on touch, the chemicals could be absorbed by the targets skin?
     
  12. NaCl
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    Actually, the "technology" already exists. There are numerous medications that are delivered through a "skin patch"...contraception, analgesics for severe headaches, nicotine patch and treatment for many other chronic conditions.

    The most poisonous substance known to man is Plutonium. A microscopic amount is more than enough to kill a human. Your character could easily use a thin layer of artificial skin to protect himself from contamination. All he would have to do is touch the victim on exposed skin...obviously you need to do some research to find the best layers of skin for fastest absorption, although this should be easy because the pharmaceutical companies already provide location suggestions for their patches.

    Shortly after "delivering" the trans-dermal poison, your assassin can enter any restroom, peel off the thin layer of false skin and flush the evidence.

    Your story has so many possibilities for this killing that it is almost overload just considering the choices.

    Good luck.

    .....NaCl
     
  13. CrimsonWolf
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    CrimsonWolf Member

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    Awesome! Thanks so much for the help! :D
     
  14. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    And...don't forget to do your "homework". For example, the plutonium I mentioned carries a complication. It is highly radioactive. So, if you chose a killing medium like that, you would have to create some kind of protection like a thin layer of lead powder encased under the false skin. By the way, where do you get false skin? Hollywood. It is a staple in movie makeup departments. Where do you get lead in powered form? Any chemistry supply store or even a highschool level chemistry kit.

    Good luck.
     
  15. CrimsonWolf
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    Okay. I did some research on Plutonium and during the 1900s, there was actually an experiment done by injecting humans with it. However it does not seem to be fast acting. 50 micrograms killed a person in 6 days, and for my story I really need a way for the assassin to have a way to store enough in his hand to kill a number of people in a row.

    Also, it seems in most cases Plutonium only causes cancer. Obviously that is from a smaller amount, but that is certainly not efficient enough for an assassin.

    Assuming you would need a few milligrams to kill a person instantly, would it be possible to store enough in false part of your hand?

    I also found a substance called Botulin.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botulin

    Apparently it is used in Botox, but tiny amounts are enough to kill a human. Though all the articles i've seen don't go into detail about how quickly a patient would die. So if anyone knows more about it, that would be helpful.
     
  16. Banzai
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    Botox is good. Botulin poisoning is very fatal, and it only takes a small amount to kill. It essentially paralyses muscle tissue, including the heart, and would thus cause your heart failure. The only drawback is, I think it needs to be injected.

    How quickly they would die would depend on the amount of toxin the person is exposed to.

    If you want a quick death, then there is always cyanide. The reason Soviet agents were given cyanide capsules, was because it killed almost instantly.
     
  17. CrimsonWolf
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    CrimsonWolf Member

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    Ideally I need something injected by touch, but injection is okay as long as a really tiny needle would penetrate far enough into the skin. But some way of a chemical being absorbed through the skin would be preferable.

    We can always go back to Nanobots if that would work better.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Cyanide is extremely poisonous, but not as instantly fatal as literature might make you believe. As a former chemist, I was exposed on a couple of occasions to cyanide, and am still around to tell about it. Once was from a titration with a burette with a broken tip. I cut my finger on the sharp glass, and some potassium cyanide was in the cut. I had a beaker of common bleach nearby for neutralizing waste cyanide, and I immediately stuck my hand in it.

    We also had a cyanide first aid kit on the premises, meant to be used within a few minutes of accidental exposure.

    Botulinum is far more toxic. Its LD50, the dose that is fatal 50% of the time, is on the order of 1 nanogram per kilogram of body weight. It's one of the most lethal toxins known to man.
     
  19. InkDancer
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    InkDancer Senior Member

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    You know, it occurs to me that if terrorists wanted to use the internet to plan horrible acts of inhumanity, all they would have to do is pretend to be writers researching a novel.
     
  20. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    ...if I get arrested now, it's you're fault, damnit! :p
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There have been murder cases in which murder mysteries were used to select the method used.

    In a murder case currently being tried in Massachusetts, the Neil Entwistle murder trial, the prosecution is expected to present (has presented?) evidence that he browsed several Internet sites giving "instructions" on ways to commit murder.

    It's really not a very new idea, unfortunately. And Federal agencies do scan the Internet looking for hits on particular keyword search patterns.

    But this strays a bit from the topic.
     
  22. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here you go...the perfect neurotoxin, provided by mother nature:

    http://www.igorilla.com/gorilla/animal/Tiny_jellyfish_blamed_for_drownings.html

    And you would not need a sophisticated delivery system. Perhaps a one inch long, thin needle fastened flat in a crevice of your hand. It would be pointed backward at you such that, when you dragged your hand across another flesh surface, the irukandji jellyfish toxin covered needle would catch, and penetrate, much like a splinter. Immediate respiratory difficulty would set in followed by coma and heart arrythmia...especially if the medics did not know the nature of the source and how to respond.

    Here is another reference:

    "Australian researchers suspect the Irukandji's sting is so toxic it can induce heart attacks and breathing difficulties, then drowning..."

    http://archives.tcm.ie/irishexaminer/2002/02/02/story22303.asp

    As a writer, I would find a way to extract and concentrate the Irukandji Jellyfish neurotoxin...or to synthesize it in high concentration...and use a microscopically serrated needle to deliver it. One important note...this little jelly fish doesn't penetrate the skin very far (if at all) so your desire for a toxin that can be absorbed through the skin may be right here in nature.

    .....NaCl

    DISCLAIMER: To all federal, state, local and CIA officials who might be looking. I have never conspired, consulted, attempted or planned the killing of anyone other than fictional characters.
     
  23. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I'd like to stress the same :)
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I assert nothing of the sort.
     
  25. CrimsonWolf
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    CrimsonWolf Member

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    Lol, me too :p

    That Jellyfish Venom looks like the best option so far. The research says it can kill between 5-120 minutes, but I suppose if it is highly concentrated or more was injected than that a jellyfish normally would than that process would speed up.

    Edit:
    Oh. I take that back:

    "Irukandji syndrome is a condition induced by envenomization through the sting of Carukia barnesi, the Irukandji jellyfish, and other cubozoans. It is seldom fatal, but is nevertheless one of the most painful experiences a human can endure."

    Apparently it's unlikely to be fatal. Just very painful. Any other ideas? I'll go have another look too.
     

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