Archive for Science in the Movies

Depth perception – or why pigeons bob their heads

// September 22nd, 2010 // 1 Comment » // How Things Work, Science Communication, Science in the Movies

I’ve been doing some science tricks lately that show the difference between both eyes. Simple one, close your left eye and line your two pointer fingers up with one 10cm behind the other. Get them so they are exactly in line and you can only see one finger. Now open your left eye and close your right eye. Not so in line anymore.

So we have two eyes on the front of our face, and they both see slightly different images of our world. Our smarty pants brain puts the images together, but it also notices the difference between the pictures and uses it for depth perception.

The same thing is used in 3D cinema, which you can see when you take off the glasses. There’s two pictures, and when an object is supposed to look closer the two pictures are further apart from each other (winces and waits for SexyMan to correct me.)

That’s why most predators have eyes on the front of their heads, so they can gauge the depth from prey. Prey animals usually have eyes on the sides, so they have a bigger range of vision and can see danger coming.

But when I was doing the hole-in-the-hand trick, it just didn’t work for me. I get a hole on the side, like a someone has taken a nibble out of my hand, but not through the middle like everyone else. Is their something wrong with my depth perception? Am I missing out on a 3D world that everyone else in enjoying in full spectroscopic vision?

My saving grace is those stereogram books, where a 3D picture is hidden inside a pattern and you have to go semi-crosseyed to see it. I rock at those books. Oh yeah. I can see the rabbit, or at least a 3D blob that could be a rabbit.

So I’m hoping I have 3D vision. But I wiki’d depth perception anyway, and it turns out there are lots of ways you can check depth besides having two forward facing eyes. Pigeons bob their heads to do it. By moving their heads a little they can see how objects around them move. Objects which are close to them move a lot, and objects that are far away stay stationary. Try it at home!

Would we survive a zombie apocalypse?

// September 15th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Science in the Movies

Brain CakeI have blogged about zombies before on this blog (real zombies and infection modeling), and generally I am pretty concerned about the impending zombie apocalypse. But today I stumbled upon the reasons why we WOULD SURVIVE such an event, and of course I had to share the good news with you. ‘Specially if you’re one of those people who secretly wish for a zombie apocalypse?

This information is from Cracked.com – 7 Scientific Reasons why we would Survive a Zombie Outbreak (Quickly.) I’m not going to rewrite their points. I’m not going to copy their jokes. I wish I had come up with this stuff myself, but I didn’t. So read the article and enjoy.

I disagree with Cracked on a number of points. If we accept that zombies are real, we can hardly impose on them the same limitations of the normal human body. For example, they said zombies would melt in the sun and get frostbite in the cold. It’s much like saying that zombies would have rigor mortise or would continue to decay… they’re not like normal humans because they are reanimated corpses. Hell, if the corspe can keep walking, who’s to say it will degenerate into putrefaction on a hot day?

Ditto the comments on zombies being unable to heal themselves and falling prey to insects or bears. Well, maybe bears, but they must be able to prevent maggot infestations. For us, we have kick ass immune systems that keep our bodies mostly clear of nasties. Maybe zombies have the same. Because they are cold and have less replicating cells they are probably unlikely to catch the flu. Maybe because their cells are dead, they have no B or T cells functioning. But I’m sure that complement, a non-living protein based section of the immune system would still work and is more than capable of emptying a can of whip-ass. Immunologists, correct me if I’m wrong.

However I do think they’re right, that we would pretty easily hole up in city high rises and just pick off zombies by throwing stuff on their heads. I guess it would depend on how long you could live in an upstairs office. Is there a kitchen? Is there still running water and enough food to last a month or so? How long do zombies live? Can you fashion weapons of mass decapitation out of desk chairs? All important questions to be answered.

As for biting being a crappy way to spread infection – Fair call. Sneezing is a much better way to transmit a disease. Carriers are also a great method, I think of them as Trojan Horses. They look innocent enough but they’re germilicious on the inside. People with the flu are most contagious in the first few days of having it, including just before they have serious symptoms. Zombies tend to be obvious, so infecting people on the sly is tricky business.

Although the article made me feel a bit better about the inevitable zombie apocalypse, I’m still continuing to check the radio for any sign of infection before I take my ship into port. One can never be too careful where zombies are concerned.

Science of Inception – sedatives, dissociatives and dreaming

// August 1st, 2010 // 11 Comments » // Drugs, Science in the Movies

inception movieInception is a movie which grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go. Having seen it, I can’t stop thinking about it and I just have to write something down. For those who haven’t seen it, I will keep this vague enough to avoid spoilers.

Dreaming is, well, weird. We don’t really know why or how it happens, though we have plenty of theories. I’ve had dreams so real that afterward I think they happened in life. It makes you think, if we can dream or imagine something that looks real, how real is reality? Could it all be a chemical hallucination, reality merely a response to stimuli that triggers a release of endogenous drugs? What makes reality more real than a dream?

If you really start thinking about it, nothing seems real. So let’s not think about it right now.

Instead let’s talk about sedatives – drugs which relax the body and the mind. Examples include alcohol, kava, valium, and barbiturates which are sometimes used as general anaesthetic (we made one at Uni once – sleepiest class ever!) Sedatives can be used to treat insomnia, and come with the danger of addiction.

So sedatives can put you to sleep, but what about dreams? The few times I’ve had general anaesthetic I haven’t had any dreams at all, and I’ve never noticed different dreams after a big night of drinking rum or sharing kava on the islands.

houseI’ve been racking my brains trying to think of a drug that enhances dreams, and I think I’ve found one. Ketamine, the horse tranquiliser known on the streets as Special K. They had it once in House – the episode “No Reason” starts with House getting shot and given ketamine as anaesthetic. The rest of the episode he hallucinates wildly and finally decides everything is a dream and kills a patient to prove it – then it flashes back to the start as House is rushed to the emergency room and says “Tell Cuddy I want ketamine.” And the whole thing was a dream. Best episode EVER.

Based on that and descriptions on Erowid I think ketamine is a good contender for inducing dreams.

It can act like a sedative (you know, seeing as it’s a tranquiliser and all) but it’s actually classed as a dissociative. Being awake under a sedative means being able to react to stimulus, but with ketamine someone is in a trancelike state with analgesic (not anal gesic, sir, the pills go in your mouth) and amnesic properties.

If I know a dream is about to become a nightmare, I can usually just wake up out of it. Sweet, right? Yes, except sometimes when I wake up I try to turn on the light and the power is out. Then I know I’m still dreaming, and the nightmare starts again. I’ve woken up into other dreams ten times in a row before actually waking up. Does that happen to anyone else, or am I as mad as Ahab?

So, even after all that research and writing, I still can’t get Inception out of my head. I think I’ll have to see it again next time I’m on shore. Come with me?

Some (bacteria) like it hot

// May 13th, 2010 // Comments Off on Some (bacteria) like it hot // How Things Work, Science in the Movies, The Realm of Bizzare

New video up!

I started this video back in January and 95% finished it before I moved to Canberra and bought a laptop. I haven’t had a chance to complete it and upload it… until now.

The montage part is my favourite.

What happens to you in space?

// March 30th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // How Things Work, Just for Fun, Science in the Movies

I have a confession to make. I want to be an astronaut. When I was a kid, I thought it would be SO COOL to be one of the most special people in your field that you’re chosen to represent the world/country and go to the final frontier. “Starman” by Bowie is still one of my favourite songs.

I grew up knowing that if you went to space without a spacesuit, you would explode. Or if not explode, at the very least blood would come exuding from pores in your skin and your eyes would pop and other gruesome things.

I mean, everyone knows you’d explode if you went to space! Except that you don’t.

Nope, you don’t explode, blood doesn’t come through your pores, I don’t even think your eyes would pop.

Don’t get me wrong, space is not a friendly place. If you have a lungful of air, then you might be in trouble. Air will try to move REALLY fast from the high pressure in your lungs to the low pressure in space, causing explosive decompression. If you ever find yourself in space without a suit, you should exhale all the air out of your lungs.

If you do that, your skin does a really good job of keeping the rest of you together. It will keep you in one piece, until you die of lack of oxygen. You might also freeze, or get a really bad sunburn if you get a shot of straight sun. You may also get the bends, caused by nitrogen dissolved in your blood to come out as bubbles – the same thing happens when rising from deep sea diving.

I still remember that scene in Event Horizon when that guy goes into the airlock without a spacesuit and the air starts dropping, and he has to breathe all the air out of his lungs and cover his eyes but blood starts coming out anyway and he gets thrown into space and then rescued! Such a good movie. Seriously. I’ve seen it about twenty times.






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