Monday, July 8, 2019

Superhero Science, and the Best Thing to Do While You're in Vegas

If you've known me more more than about 10 or 15 minutes, then you probably already know that I like superheroes.  Like, a lot.

Today I'll be talking about one of my favorite places in Las Vegas: S.T.A.T.I.O.N.

STATION is located in the Treasure Island casino, and it stands for Scientific Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network.  STATION headquarters is basically a big interactive/immersive Marvel museum.  They have props and wing-wangs from the movies, with a lot of superhero "science" to explain how things work, in-world.

For example, Hulk's secret is that he's always angry.

No, but seriously, there's a part in the Hulk exhibit about which areas of his brain change.  In Thor's exhibit, there are star maps.  In Captain America's exhibit, you can see the prop motorcycle he rode in the first movie and also learn about Alaskan wood frogs, a creature that, like our own Captain America, freeze solid and then somehow come to life when they thaw.  (The answer?  Lots and lots of glucose in the blood, for one thing.)

 The entrance to the "bio lab," 
where information about how the Hulk works is mixed in with actual biology and anatomy facts.

 Information about the real-world Hadron collider is included with the exhibit on the Tesseract portal from the first Avengers movie.

 Both real and "Asgardian" star maps are in the Thor exhibit.

 3D renderings of Tony's suits show how they would be modeled and built.

Aww yiss.

The whole place is just an incredible piece of world-building and superhero science, and I love it.  The exhibits include a lot of movie props but mix in actual information.  It's a spectacular place to bring your kids, in my opinion.

Comic books have long inspired people to broaden their interests, and are many people's first experience with the STEM fields.  You've got Riri Williams and Lunella Lafayette working as mechanics and engineers, and Squirrel Girl going to college for computer programming (she reasons that she already knows everything about squirrels and it's best to study something she doesn't know anything about).

You've got cool people doing math.

That's right.  Math is cool.

And in my (admittedly biased opinion as a recovering scientist), that's really, really important.

This was my desktop background at work for several months.

Mind you, it's not just about inspiring kids to become scientists, although that's part of it, nor about making learning fun, although that's also part of it.  (Shout-out to Disney for opening a STEM center in Oakland for kids and pledging $1M to a STEM program following the success of Black Panther, which features, yep, more badass scientists.)

I'm not gonna lie, I, as an adult, have probably learned more from Marvel than from any other institution.  I'm a veritable encyclopedia on real-world trivia thanks to the Marvel universe, from what M&Ms looked like in Steve's lifetime (they contained purple and tan ones, and were sold in a cardboard tube) to how Tony's palladium arc reactor was poisoning him (the beta decay of palladium produces toxic rhodium and silver byproducts).

And I'm not the only one.  People have written whole books on the "science" of Marvel's fictitious world.

Although I've done my fair share of dabbling.  Putting aside the ridiculous amount of research into time travel for Divergence, I once stayed up all night researching nuclear warhead payloads to figure out why Tony wasn't blinded by the blast in Avengers 1.  (I'm probably on some lists now.)

 New iAlbatross drinking game:
Take a shot every time I needlessly plug Divergence.

In case you were wondering, fifty percent of a weapon's power is in the blast radius, and maybe a third is thermal radiation.  A B53 is nine megatons with a blast radius of three to four miles. The blast effect would kill any unprotected person in about a ten-mile radius, though Tony, in the suit, had some form of protection.  And within two-and-a-half miles, he would probably be getting a dose of about 500 rem ion radiation, which had a fifty to ninety percent chance of killing him, too.

The missile, (probably a Titan II or something similar), had a max speed of fifteen thousand miles an hour.  The bomb had been traveling at at least half that, though it had definitely lost some of its speed when Tony had snagged it and altered the course.  Half and half meant it had been going about three thousand. One or two thousand, conservatively, but certainly more than the sound barrier, at 767 mph.  So if the missile was going 1000 mph when Tony entered the wormhole and he'd been there for, say, thirty seconds, again being conservative... meaning that, when it went off in space, it was already five hundred miles away from Tony, well outside of the blast range.

Also, in case you were wondering the math about Tony being thrown from the tower, I learned from Avengers that he probably definitely should have been killed when he was flung out of Stark Tower.  At 93 stories tall, the building would be just under 1,000 feet, and Tony would have had less than 15 seconds before he smacked into the ground.

But enough math.  No, the reason I love comic book science is that it inspires actual science.  Life imitates art all the time.  You think people haven't been looking at Bucky's prosthetic arm and saying, "You know what, we could do that."  People are already building hydraulic Hulkbuster armors and jetpacks for themselves, and these aren't traditional "scientists," but armchair amateurs who have been inspired. 

Science fiction has long inspired new technology.  Star Trek gave us cell phones and automatic doors, and now it has a page on the official NASA website.  The word "robot" was popularized by a sci-fi fiction play.  (The play was about robots.)

 "Real" scientists:
Guys with garages: Hold my beer.

It's easy to dismiss comic books as flights of fancy that rely on fantastic, magical thinking to convey plot lines, but Clarke's Third Law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  And that's what science, and comic books, are to me: magic.

Do yourself a favor.  Take your kids to S.T.A.T.I.O.N.  And if you don't have kids, take yourself.  You just might learn something.

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