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Science of TRON

Listen to audio from the "Science of TRON" panel, featuring director Joe Kosinski, producer Sean Bailey, and science consultants Sean Carroll & John Dick. Learn More

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Fantasy into Science, or Realizing the Impossible: Invisibility

Fantasy fiction is about magic, science fiction is about … well, science. People who believe in one do not always buy into the other, yet the two can merge. As Arthur C. Clarke wrote, a sufficiently advanced technology cannot be distinguished from magic. Besides, some magical visions represent such deep human yearnings that we ardently wish they were real. 

These visions often appear in fantasy, myth, and legend, where they are “explained” simply as being magical. They might reappear in the newer genre of science fiction, justified by more or less credible scientific explanations. And sometimes, if we are lucky, there’s a third step where the idea moves out of fiction altogether and becomes real.

Villain Science: The Magnetizing Magneto

Something strange seems to be happening in Eastern Europe as of late. Something very, very strange. Something … magnetic. Recently circulated videos showcase the so-called magnetic children of Croatia and Serbia. One video shows 6-year-old Ivan Stoiljkovic’s bare chest covered in spoons and forks. In another video, 10-year-old Jelena Momcilov places a metal ladle against her “magnetic” palm, letting it dangle with her fingers outstretched.

Science: As Easy a Riding a Bike

What is your first memory of science? If your first thought is a classroom, think farther back. What about a visit to an aquarium or a zoo? Or the first time your parents explained why or how something works? Think back to your Easy-Bake Oven – chemistry! – or collecting fireflies – biology! – and you’ll start to see the hidden signs of science all around you.

The unlikely suspect: How geophysics revolutionized the recording industry

Chances are, when you think of Cher, the iconic recording artist, you also think of geophysics. Okay, maybe you don’t. But you should. Cher and geophysics revolutionized the recording industry – together.

It started in 1998, when Cher released her single “Believe.” The song was a major success, sitting at #1 on the Billboard charts for four straight weeks. It also featured a new, and peculiar, effect on Cher’s vocals: at key moments, her voice wobbled uncontrollably, like a robot attempting karaoke. The description sounds cringe-inducing, but combined with the song’s fast-paced beat, it sounds, well, good. Good enough to be adopted by Madonna, Janet Jackson – even rappers T. Pain and Kanye West. The “Cher effect” (as it became known) was soon a staple of the recording industry, a distortion process reinvented as an artistic choice.

Science of Iron Man 2

The Science of Iron Man 2" was held on October 13th, 2010 at CaltechSuperheroes aren’t the likeliest scientists, but according to Caltech physicist Mark Wise, Tony Stark’s science is accurate. During “The Science of Iron Man 2,” a panel presented by The Exchange and Caltech, Wise pointed to an extended scene from the Iron Man 2 Blu-ray as a depiction of hard science. The scene, which Wise consulted on, depicts Tony Stark building a particle accelerator from scratch. Wise gave the scene an “A” for scientific accuracy, stating “That could be a real accelerator.”

Tony Stark's Science

If you're one of the millions of people who flocked to the cinema this weekend to see Iron Man 2, you're no doubt wondering how much of the plot is based in fact, and how much is pure science fiction.

Forget Warp Drive and "Faster-that-light" Space Travel: "Slow Light Is" Where It's At

Despite the fact that the speed of light is an absolute upper limit, faster-than-light space travel is deeply embedded in science fiction. Einstein showed that any object with mass cannot reach, let alone exceed, the speed of light. But science fiction tends to overlook this very inconvenient truth simply because the universe is so big. To reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star after our own Sun, would take more than four years for a spaceship moving at the speed of light, and a jaunt across the full diameter of our galaxy would take 100,000 years. Knowing this, script writers imagine solutions like Star Trek’s “warp drive” that allow the Enterprise to travel around the galaxy at multiples of light speed, or “worm holes” that provide cosmic short cuts.

Physicists Looking Forward to "Flash Forward"

Particle physics -- especially the research being done at CERN's Large Hadron Collider -- seems to have captured Hollywood's imagination these days. First, the collider was featured in director Ron Howard's Angels and Demons. And on Thursday, sci-fi novelist Robert J. Sawyer's novel Flash Forward makes its network debut on ABC. The novel starts out at CERN's LHC, and many of the central characters are physicists and engineers.

Talking Incentives

So, it's simply not true that scientists lack communication skills in any absolute sense. Successful scientists, by and large, have excellent communication skills. The problem is that those skills have been developed for communication to a very specific audience: other scientists in the same field. The communication strategies that are most effective for scientists talking to other scientists are often not effective when communicating to the general public.

For All Time

The film adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's bestselling novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, hits theaters this weekend. For those unfamiliar with the premise, it concerns a Chicago librarian named Harry (Eric Bana) who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes him to live on a constantly shifting timeline, shuttling back and forth between past, present and future with no control over this unusual quirk.

This understandably throws a wrench into his relationship with Clare (Rachel McAdams), who must cope with his sudden disappearances and re-appearances as best she can over the course of their marriage.

Let's leave aside the fact that no genetic disorder could possibly cause this kind of anomaly in the space-time continuum. We're talking about fantasy, after all, which demands a certain willing suspension of disbelief.

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