My spidey-sciences are tingling!

That’s right, my inspiration from being bitten by spiders last week would have to be mutation! Mutation in science fiction is a really broad topic though so I’ll start with the science of Spider-man.

The premise of spider-man begins with the possibility that a radiologically mutated spider, or in the case of the movie a genetically modified spider, could bite a human and transfer its genes or strengths to the person. Spider venom, the only thing that does get passed through a bite, by definition consists of neuro-toxins that affect a person’s nervous system. The nervous system is something like the pathways from the brain to the rest of the body, and affects our ability to walk talk and coordinate muscles for specific tasks. Spider venom overloads the system and shuts down vital functions. Although potentially harmful, spider venom does not include any substance that could transfer genetic material, and even then there is no real reason for that material to be assimilated into the human body. However, gene splicing may be the answer. Gene splicing is the use of restricter enzymes to cut a specific part of a gene off, allowing a separate sequence to be attached. In the minuscule chance that the genetically modified spiders had such an enzyme in its venom, as well as parts of its own DNA that would adhere to that segment, in theory this could lead to Peter Parker’s change of attributes. Only one attribute can be changed in this way though, and since the body is continuously synthesizing new cells that have the old gene structure there really is no reason for Peter Parker to maintain or even gain anything from the bite in such an unlikely scenario, unless all his cells were affected in the exact same way which is impossible! Its too bad really, since  I was really holding out some hope that being bitten would cause something other than a horrible allergic reaction. My fingers have been feeling a little sticky lately…Maybe I’ll go rock climbing!

Ok, so that part is pure fantasy.  Next we’ll take a look at his individual powers. Super strength: he is capable of lifting 150 times his own body weight, much like a spider. Or an ant for that matter. In reality, such a feat would be impossible for a mammal the size of a person. The reason that small animals can lift a greater amount relative to their own weight has nothing to do with the animals being strong. The muscles of an ant or spider are the same strength (per amount of muscle) as a human’s.

The reason these animals seem to be very strong for their size is due to simple scaling laws. Let’s say we have a 6-foot tall, 200-pound human that can lift their own weight in some certain exercise routine. So, we can define their strength as the amount of weight they can lift, divided by their own weight. In this case, it’s 200/200 = 1. So, they have a strength coefficient of 1.

If you scaled down that human to 1/100 of their height, and adjusted their length and width in the same way (to preserve their shape), you would have a human that was 0.06 feet tall.

Now, the human’s weight goes as the CUBE of their height, so they would weigh (1/100)^3 times as much as they did before. If they weighed 200 pounds before, they would now weigh 0.0002 pounds.

However, their muscle strength goes as the cross-sectional area of their muscle, and area goes as the SQUARE of their height. So, they can now lift (1/100)^2 times as much weight as they could before. If they could lift 200 pounds before, they would be able to lift 0.02 pounds now. Ok i’ll be honest, I was lazy and got this off a science site. Its true though and reflects the gist of my argument.

Now, lets look at his ability to climb smooth surfaces. Spiders posses tiny hairs on he base of their legs. These hairs adhere to surfaces through the use of Van der Waals forces- tiny electro-static forces created in tiny spaces due to the movement of electrons in that space. Similarly, spider man could use tiny hairs on his palms and legs to climb. The hairs are so tiny that they do not necessarily need to appear visible.

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Around Town

This pic was taken on the Harbor Bridge. Had to slip my camera underneath the rail to take this shot but it was worth it.

Ok, yesterday I went exploring Sydney city, and somehow managed to see almost every important tourist landmark in that one day.  I started at the Queen Victoria Building, made a bee-line to the Sydney harbor bridge, wondered up and down it a couple of times, headed to the Sydney Opera House, wondered around a little and ended up in the Botanic Gardens where wondered in and out until I ended up in Hyde park. From there I stumbled upon a monorail and ended up in Darling Harbour for dinner at a swanky roasted ribs restaurant. My movements were more or less unintentional, since I was actually trying to head to a Malaysian restaurant from the get-go. Unfortunately I ended up getting lost and simply went towards the largest building I could see in the sky-line: The Sydney Harbor Bridge. From then on I was moving from one visible landmark to the next. Sadly I never did get to eat at the Malaysian restaurant, though I suppose I could try again sometime soon. I’m more likely to find myself in bushland though.

As for the tourist attractions themselves…I was pretty underwhelmed. The QVB was a nice, quaint old-style shopping center. The bridge was much nicer far-away, and did not look too awe-inspiring up-close. The Opera House was nice but…. Again did not take my breath away. To be honest it looked old. Finally the botanic gardens were surprisingly mundane. with the exception of one tree that appeared to be lying on its side I had seen the majority of the vegetation before. Really, hiking in the nature reserves are so much more satisfying than looking at all these man-made attractions. If I do end up in bushland next time I think it would be an improvement.

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Contagion, Infestation, Whatever

Well, sorry for the long absence. You see, recently I was attacked by a pack of vicious dogs. By “vicious” I mean blood-thirsty and by “dogs” I mean….well, bugs. It all began last Tuesday. I was just minding my own business when I felt this burning pain…ok annoying itch…. on my left foot…. Thinking nothing of it, I carried on with life. It was only when I bothered to check that I realized that my foot had at least three bites. Not so much mosquito bites, than the kind a carnivorous elephant-that-had-decided-that-my-foot-looked-like-a-nice-piece-of-vegetation-to-chew-on might give a man. I fought back by vacuuming my entire abode, to no avail. The next morning I had six more to add to the first three. Research proved fruitless for my symptoms did not match that of any insect bite. Except for one….Spiders. My room did border on the garden and I suppose I may have provoked an attack by spraying and burning the little webs that seem so common in small bushes and shrubs. Yet I could never find the bugger to prove my hypothesis. So I simply bug bombed my room on Thursday and haven’t been bitten since.Strangely I began feeling incredibly strong and more energetic than I have felt in a while… especially in these winter conditions.

I went hiking at a nature reserve, did push-ups and went to a delicious  Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Ngam’s or something like that. The food is truly some of the best Asian cuisine I’ve had since leaving Singapore. In fact…..Then I felt weird. My skin began to peal around the bites…. Likely an allergic reaction to the poison in the bites, or so I told myself. Then my skin became thick and scaly and little buuuggssss came pouring…Ok, now I’m making this up. In fact the only thing that happened after bug-bombing my room was that I started coughing and sneezing. After all that exercise, Somehow, in my weakened state, the common cold managed to bypass my immune system. And I was sick. After going on for such a long time without catching the bug…. I actually thought I was immune! In any case these recent events shall be my long-awaited Muse for my next fact-fiction post.

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Big Bang Theory

Well, I was about to create a post devoted to answering the sheer minefield of Scientific queries raised by the hit comedy The Big Bang Theory. Unfortunately a real physicist who writes the science in the script has already explained himself in his blog, so I’ll just post this link and call it a day. No, I intend to criticize his explanation of S03E22: The Staircase Implementation. I believe that the rocket fuel should have been added to the model rocket before adding the catalyst as a safety precaution. After all the reaction would theoretically start as soon as any amount of catalyst is added. Technically the catalyst should have only been added when the rocket was ready for launch. His use of the square-cube law only means that the fuel would explode nearly immediately instead of “combust”( technically it does not burn. It simply decomposes and expels huge volumes of gas and heat. Hence combust is wrong) gradually as is expected of a rocket launch. Even if it were non-explosive a slowly “combusting” bottle of fuel is still pretty dangerous.

Secondly I criticize the show itself since an applied physicist of any standing could never make such a simple mistake- imagine the problems that could happen to an actual space launch. On the other hand I love the concept of exposing people to physics so I forgive you guys.

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Moving House!

Hey guys, if anyone’s been reading this blog I aim to move to this BLOG . This is because I do not face the restrictions there that I do here. Its just sooo difficult to change anything on this interface!

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Science Fiction Double Post: Lightsaber Science

Ok, here’s my second post and it touches on Science Fiction once more- this time the science behind the Lightsaber. May the force be with me, because this will be hard. Ok, first off many often call a lightsaber a “laser sword”. the thing is, a laser being an intense beam of light would not end at a certain length nor would it cast a shadow as it certainly does. Cleverly enough, George Lucas, or someone at lucas arts, used real physics to create a plausible and believable lightsaber.


Ok, you know there are three states of matter, solid, liquid and gas. There is a fourth state that is rarely used in elementary science- plasma! Sci-fi writers the world over did not create it- it was and still is present in the most common of objects such as neon tubes, plasma screen TVs (obviously!) and the Sun itself! In fact plasma accounts for the greatest source of mass in the universe. Now what is plasma and what the heck does it have to do with light sabers? Well plasma is basically ionized gas- at least 1% ionized to be exact. This gas begins to display some very non-gasious behavior, for example it now becomes an excellent conductor of electricity. Those of you in the know would realize that if that were true of normal gasses any source of power such as a wall socket could potentially cause you, your house, your pet dog and probably your mango to be zapped to kingdom come – lightning is a good example of what happens when sufficient air is ionized to send excess charge from the clouds streaking down to the earth.

First let’s picture a “simpler” weapon: A blaster merely emits a highly accelerated projected shaft of highly ionized plasma this is perfectly plausible in terms of physics although it is questionable whether true blasters really have that sufficient range. We are talking about ejecting a highly ionized gas, which would tend to disperse. This is apparently kept in shape by the sheer velocity of the particles. Light sabers are similar, with one exception: A mysterious force field limits the length of the plasma blade, while redirecting it back toward the hilt in an endless cycle. This allows for a much smaller energy source in the hilt, since the plasma is not continuously lost to the air around it.

Force Field

The fact is that use of a force field to contain the plasma is plausible: ionized particles are affected by magnetic fields. The mysterious “force field” may well be a magnetic field. In fact this very phenomenon is illustrated by the creation of plasma windows, a layer of plasma bound by magnetic fields. However plasma windows are well….not really ideal for frying anything. If anything they create an almost true to life force field as they repel any object that attempts to enter it. The plasma now charges anything that attempts to break the field and repels it. Charges of the same ionization tend to repel, and the object is repelled before it can be captured by the magnetic field. The only explanation left is that the magnetic field collapses on contact, allowing the plasma to rush out at the point of contact. The emission of plasma raises another question: in theory this means that a person cutting anything with the plasma blade will be pushed backwards. No exertion to counter this backward force is noted on any jedi, so one can only assume that the writers did not take this fact into account. Then there’s the question of how a magnetic field can be emited by the hilt to encompass the entire blade- that cannot be explained at all.

A light saber is perfectly possible, though the equipment used to create it perfectly impossible. Its uses are also limited, though there is a ray of hope for force fields!

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Parallel Universes in comic books

Marvel, DC, they all have them. No, not super heroes dressed in tights with pecs bigger than the chests of most women ( We wonder why men like looking at other men with cleavage, though perhaps we’d best leave it at that). Rather, we explore the concept of parallel universes. There’s the 52 comic in DC, and the spiderman multiverse in Marvel just to name two.

Why do they create these far-out otherworlds? Well, the most common reason would be to explore what-if scenarios such as “what-if Lex Luthor really does kill Superman” without the nitty gritty problem of the character actually dying or changing in the main comic theme. This allows them to revive interest on the one hand while not changing the comic to the extent that readers can no longer recognise the characters. Its a win-win really, though it’s also a really cheap trick.

Ok, heres the science behind it all. There are many views on the possibile explainations of parallel universes, one such begins at The Begining: the big bang theory. The universe was not always in existance and in fact exploded into being from a point singularity. Scientists speculate that all that energy and mass could have been channeled from another universe, hence black holes in our universe potentially lead to “light holes” and the creation of children universes. Another theory starts at the collapse of a universe, as gravity pulls all mass and space together into the size of a….for fun’s sake lets say pineapple. This eventually becomes unstable and explodes into children universe. Thus theoretically infinite universes exist that die, unfold in an eternal symphony. Some have entirely different physical properties, some similar, possibly so similar that we might well have an almost exact replica of earth.

Another theory plays on our very perception. As people we experience three dimensions, excluding time which is not a spatial dimension, forward-backward, sideways, upward-downward. we can experience these three dimensions and anything within them. Lets suppose we live on a piece of paper, 2 dimensions are our world. We perceive Foreward-backward and up-down, but not sideways through the paper. Thus a 2d man would not be able to see outsied of the page, as he cannot perceive it. Another page is place next to his but he does not perceive that page. Suppose that 3d is not all we have. if there were 4d, sideways,up-down, foreward-backward aaannndd…..banana, we would not be able to observe another 3d world placed parallel to ours in the direction of the 4th dimension-in this case banana.

Lets say you punch a hole in 2d man’s universe with a pencil. He does not perceive the pencil but thanks you (you are “god” in this case-just this case so do not go poking people with pencils)for the nice ball.  If such higher dimensions do exist, the very objects we use and see could be verry different….a simple papaya could be a higher-dimension’s alien booger because only the papaya shape is all we could perceieve. Thats not likely but it as possible as most far out fantasy book claims. Anyway I hate that fruit so it may as well be alien booger.

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