Hollywood science: Fact or fiction

By: Grace Helmke

Hollywood has allowed us to visit incredible places and experience thrilling adventures filled with death-defying jumps, and heart-wrenching love stories. It has allowed science to come alive in a way that’s never before been seen. It has led us through stories of time travel, cloning, and so much more.

However, sometimes these films have a little more fiction than fact. Today, we are going to explore the science behind some famous TV shows and movies, and determine whether or not they are fact or fiction. 

Jurassic Park’ 

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‘Jurassic Park’ centers around the idea that one one could create dinosaurs from blood in a mosquito, encased in amber, and preserved for millions of years.

This is simply false.

Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist, said that the likelihood of cloning a dinosaur is close to impossible. In order to make this happen, you would need the whole genome. However, no one has ever found dinosaur DNA. So, it’s incredibly unlikely that a T-Rex could get loose and wreak havoc in the future. 

‘Star Trek’ 

A major part of the show was the crew’s ability to travel at the speed of light. They called this warp speed. Warp speed essentially distorted the fabric of spacetime, allowing the crew to travel superluminally, or faster than the speed of light.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity suggests that this is not a totally unheard of thought. In fact, it’s entirely possible. In 1994, a scientist named Miguel Alcubierre discovered what today is known as the Alcubierre Drive. His theory was that it’s possible to bend space time in a way that contracts in front of you, and expands behind you, moving you in a forward motion.

‘Back to the Future’

This classic 80s film features the creation of the DeLorean, a time travel machine.

Is time travel truly possible?

NASA tells us it is, but not in the way one thinks. In NASA’s words, “Although humans can’t hop into a time machine and go back in time, we do know that clocks on airplanes and satellites travel at a different speed than those of earth.”

So, although it’s not possible to go see the dinosaurs, or visit famous historical figures, it is possible to travel in space for three years and come back to find that five years have passed on earth. This is called time dilation, and is an incredibly prevalent topic of study in physics and astronomical sciences. 

‘Contact’

This film features a lot of fictional science and inaccuracies. It was praised for its realistic depiction of the search for extraterrestrial life.

The film used radio signals and the translation of alien language using mathematical equations. This is incredibly accurate and is rooted in science. Math is a universal language. So, it’s entirely possible that their forms of communication could be based upon science and math.

There are also some concepts that have stirred debate; such as the idea that the main character traveled through a wormhole to speak to the aliens. It’s difficult to say whether or not a person traveling through a wormhole would survive or not.

For a significant period of time, it was believed that upon entering the wormhole you would either be stretched out into a spaghetti noodle, or be expanded into molecules. Both would mean certain death. But a Harvard physicist recently discovered that not only do wormholes exist and can connect one part of the universe to another, but it’s possible to travel through it. The only catch is that you would have to do so very slowly. It would actually take less time to go to the location directly than it would through a wormhole.  

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