Monday, July 16, 2007

Movie Science?

First of all, a short article in nature described this paper. The general consensus was that asking movies to hold up to the same level of scientific reality that you ask of researchers or classes is silly. Everyone knows that Magneto defies the laws of physics, of course he does and of course no one can actually do that. Everyone knows similar for Superman, and most sci-fi movies. Well, duh.

What surprised me the most about the article was the fact that of all the problems in The Core, they chose the fact that the movie-makers show a human body sinking into lava, in defiance of buoyancy, and then talk about conservation of momentum with Superman, later on. I think the Superman example is a notably bad one, simply because, well, I had always heard that part of it being that Superman flies faster than the speed of light, reversing time and saving Lois, rather than the interpretation that the two authors gave it. However, there's a great problem with conservation of momentum in The Core, since if the earth's core stops spinning, in order to conserve momentum, the rest of the earth has to start spinning faster - and somehow, no one notices this.

Other wonderful moments that demonstrate a shocking lack of basic scientific literacy are moments such as when the main character has his two supposedly top-notch graduate students draw him a picture of the magnetic field of the earth (something anyone who has taken intro level physics should be able to do, along with many others) and when they have Orca whales singing. OR the repeated catch-phrase; Unobtanium converts Heat into Energy!

HOWEVER, it is my honest opinion that the writers of The Core knew exactly what they were doing and actually tried to break as many scientific laws as possible; to offend or mess up as many disciplines as possible. (Of that, they did a very good job, I think.) Since they were playing to stereotypes in droves, the stereotype of getting the science wrong is an easy one to play to.

ALSO, at the very beginning of the article in Nature (findable here), Mr. Ball mentions Jurrasic Park and the mad scientist in it, which brings me to my next golden find.

The New York Times, today, published an article talking about the possibility of re-engineering mammoths based on the DNA found from frozen corpses. The process is surprisingly similar to what would have actually had to happen were someone to do exactly what was done in Jurrassic Park to bring back Dinosaurs. First, using a newly developed sequencing technique, sequence the genome of the mammoth from the degraded DNA found in fossilized bones and frozen corpses. Second, engineer this genome into Chromosomes (we are getting to the point that we can get .5 million base pairs - which is only a couple orders of magnitude off, something the NY Times mentions). Third, find a way to package this with the proper proteins and methylation marks (something that we can do in bacteria, again noted by the Times). Finally, grow up the new Mammoth in an elephant's uterus. I find it fascinating and hilarious. And the best part is, people are trying to sequence the mammoth's DNA, the first step in this process. So, while perhaps we will never see Jurrassic Park, we are getting scarily close to going to a zoo to see Wooly Mammoths. Although global warming will probably make it a very unpleasant place for them to be.


Duff said...

We could be the first species to cause another species to go unextinct!

Elizabeth said...

Super-intelligent space aliens notwithstanding, YES!

ayn said...

And then we could likely cause the species we brought out of extinction to go extinct a second time.