Archive for December 29th, 2009

The Science of Avatar (Part II)

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 29, 2009 11:16 am

After watching Avatar last weekend, I composed a post about being particularly appreciative that James Cameron and his crew so obviously did their homework when it came to much of the science depicted onscreen. I invited readers to share their impressions and many of you came through with terrific examples–some I hadn’t even considered before. So I’ll run through five of the science details I enjoyed most, followed by a few of the best examples from our reader community:

1) Dr. Grace Augustine. Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of a research scientist was uncharacteristically good. Instead of the typical caricature we see in Hollywood, she wasn’t socially inept (i.e. typical Rick Moranis roles) or out to destroy everything (i.e. Dr. Evil). Instead, Grace conveyed the natural curiosity about the world that I observe so often in colleagues. Also noteworthy, she was funded by a program with corporate interests, but really using the opportunity to pursue her own research. Sound familiar to anyone?

2) The Skull. Did you catch the Toruk skull? It wasn’t onscreen long, but it appeared to have characteristics of both birds and reptiles. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it seemed quite detailed and cool.

3) Bioluminescence. With a background in marine biology, you know I’m going to appreciate that.

4) Scale. If gravity on Pandora is less than that on Earth, larger organisms would be supported.

5) Location. The choice of putting Pandora on a moon in the real Alpha Centauri star system (the closest system to Earth) was neat since scientists are looking at moons for life. The radiation anticipated could be mitigated by superconductivity. Which brings me to…

Those floating mountains. Many comments expressed disappointment with them, however, it’s not quite as implausible as you may suspect. The filmmakers put thought into this: Superconductors expel magnetic field lines, so the effect could make these mountains levitate like magnets away from the surface. (Details here).

Picture 5

There is a great deal more I like about the science of Avatar, but rather than compose an exhaustive list, I’ll quote some examples contributed by readers below the fold…

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