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This edition: Season 2, Episode 12: "The Flash"

Episode Details

Original tape date: February 23, 2016.

First aired: June 3, 2016.

In episode #212 of Science Goes to the Movies, David E. Kaplan, Professor of Physics & Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University and one of the producers of the 2013 documentary Particle Fever, joins the show to talk about physics in the CW series “The Flash.”

To start, Kaplan compares the Hadron Collider in “The Flash” to the real one seen in Particle Fever, contrasting, in particular, their sizes. The way “The Flash” depicts the multiverse is considered, and Kaplan breaks down the basics of the multiverse theory, including the foundational principle that several unknown and inaccessible dimensions exist alongside this one. The way in which a wormhole could create the possibility of movement between dimensions is also considered.

Next Kaplan describes different kinds of particles, and how that relates to what Kaplan calls the emergent phenomenon of consciousness. The way The Flash’s speed affects his experience of the passage of time is explained next, and how he moves, through his speed, into what Kaplan calls a different reference frame, making it so that the watch on his wrist moves slower than that of someone in the ordinary reference frame.

The law of physics that says the speed of light is the same for every observer, at any speed, is also explained, including a description of how a certain scene from The Flash violates that rule. Kaplan then offers his thoughts on the relationship between gravity and time travel, and defines what is called a “closed timelike curve.”

The significance of the discovery of the Higgs boson particle, as depicted in Particle Fever, and how it might lead to even greater discoveries, is discussed next, as well as the motivation behind scientific research generally and the abiding human need to better understand reality. Kaplan then provides a sense of the scale of the time scientific discovery takes.

Then Kaplan explores whether or not super symmetry, the theory of an organized, structured universe, could coexist with the randomness of the multiverse – and how human scientists are biased, in their evaluation of this question, by the fact that they exist only in this universe.

What Kaplan calls Length Contraction is defined next, as it pertains to the distances traveled in Star Wars. Kaplan then explains how Star Wars ignores the very issues of time and aging that Interstellar takes so seriously.

Written and Produced by Lisa Beth Kovetz.

Science Goes to the Movies is made possible by generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Guest List

David E. Kaplan Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University