The Science Of The Silver Screen

Life doesn’t feature many explosions. Thankfully, cinema does, even if set-pieces often escape the realms of possibility. But all that might change if a project by the US National Academy of Sciences succeeds in educating less science-savvy folks at Hollywood. The venture, called the Science and Entertainment Exchange, aims to guide the entertainment industry in all things science, as well as promote communication between scientists and the general public. Certainly good news for boffins. But could any of these bloated blockbusters benefit from a science lesson?

Armageddon – Asteroid Collision

Michael Mann wouldn’t lie to us, would he? Scientists currently have an asteroid pegged with a 1-in-45 chance of striking the planet on April 13, 2029, but stress those odds are likely to reduce with continued observation. What if we’re unlucky, or what if Bruce Willis feels like a lie in? According to those very reputable laws of physics, even if we planted a nuke in an asteroid, rather than deviate it, it would fragment and do even more damage – like a blast from a shotgun. However, the mining opportunities are tremendous – an average-sized asteroid could contain 7500 tonnes of platinum; that’s over £3.5 trillion.

Waterworld – Ice Caps Melting

Everyone’s favourite Costner flick (after the good ones), Waterworld may offer jet ski chases in place of plausible plot, but in our age of polar melt-down panic, is that to say it couldn’t happen? Climatologists claim that if both ice caps were to melt, sea levels would rise by 660 meters globally – leaving campus submerged by 530m. Whilst the Earth has experienced global warming and cooling many times throughout its history, natural variability can’t account for the dramatic rise in Global temperature we’re seeing right now– 2005 was the hottest year since records began. Whether down to sudden releases of methane from clathrate compounds or just your daddy’s SUV, it’s fair to hypothesise that if the Earth did become a waterworld, we would all become grunge pirates.

Harry Potter – Invisibility Cloak

While not strictly explosiony or meaty (unless you count Daniel Radcliff’s ‘wand’ in stage production Equus), invisibility is a very real possibility. The light-bending effect, similar to the kind which makes a pencil in a pool of water appear crooked, relies on reversing refraction. Metamaterial, in theory, could be fabricated to bend light around the object so that an observer would see right through it — or rather, right around it. In fact, researchers at the University of California in Berkeley are currently developing the materials to achieve this effect on a nano scale – measured in billionths of a metre – in the hope that these materials could be scaled up to the size of a wearable garment in the future. No longer the playthings of gifted wizards with Beatles haircuts, the Ministry of Defence are also getting in on the action. After testing the technology on British Army vehicles, the in-service debut of an invisible tank could be just five years away. And you thought it was all just magic…

Ben Griffin


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