In the gaps between facts, we humans like to fill them in with fiction. It’s human nature to enjoy a good story and brains also hate having those blank spaces when they pop up. Science is one of the best places to fill in the gaps because it allows so many things to be possible. And it sounds more believable when the spectacular is rooted in the practical. Let’s take The Flash for a spin on this.
As I’ve mentioned before, the supervillians in The Flash are a little more hokey than the villains in shows like Arrow and Supergirl. Not that I would ever downplay the entertainment value, I simply consider it a point of aesthetics. Many times the physics and science are rooted in things we learn in high school science classes, and there is mention of the real math involved in The Flash’s speed powers. That being said, sometimes I just want a kid’s science special featuring Cisco talking about the science behind the supervillains.
Particle smashers already exist, analysis on the restructuring of atoms and DNA are already underway, but what if that atom-smashing led to inter-dimensional travel? How fast would you have to move to time travel? What if there was a guy who could transfer all the kinetic energy in a 10 foot radius and transfer that to himself, making the people and things around him seem to stop in time? How fast would an average sized human have to travel to physically knock over a gorilla that is three times the size of said human? How do you beat the guy that turns into sand?
Why, throw some lightning at him and turn that sand into glass. Obviously.
For many people the action-based superhero show is just that, action and costumes. But if you watch shows like The Flash regularly, take a second to pay attention to the thought processes that go into how each bad guy is defeated. That stuff is rooted in all the things that teachers tried to shove in your face with things like “labs” and “diagrams”. Ew. But really, start quizzing yourself to see if you actually understand what they’re talking about. You will feel so much smarter for it!
The great thing about superheroes is that you can fill all those gaps in. The most recent examples is The Turtle, a man who steals items of immense personal value by way of taking the kinetic energy of others. Essentially he freezes people and then seems to move super fast. Honestly, I’m terrible at math, but the concepts are still fun to see in action. Just watching boring informational videos (unless it’s Bill Nye of course) explaining kinetic and potential energy, here is a guy using the change between the two to do something kinda cool with physics. But stealing is illegal so don’t try that in reality. Don’t break the law, kids.
Then there are the guys that are able to change their state of matter and become gaseous or grains of sand and destroy people on a molecular level! Yeah, throwing around that old vocab list, but it all seems to come together when you can apply the concepts to things that are a little more fun than multiple choice exams.
Probably my favorite baddie so far is Grodd, a lab animal that wound up gaining super-intelligence through a combination of human experiments and a radiation wave that gave everyone else their super powers. He’s been my favorite since The Justice League but at that point he was already a super genius with class. The Flash gives the audience his origin story as an abused lab animal trying to take over humanity. Very Planet of the Apes in terms of execution, still a scary gorilla with daddy issues. The science in the episodes with Grodd seem the most realistic because that science has been in the works since Planet of the Apes first premiered, and the problems surrounding animal testing still goes on today.
Then there’s The Flash himself. Only the most evil physics teacher would use the speeds breaking the sound barrier for a homework question, and I would hate to run the numbers on how many pairs of shoes that guy runs through (Ha ha) in the average week. Having visuals for the things that we learn as kids can reinforce their importance. As well as finally teach us how entertaining science can be when there aren’t as many made up terms and aliens flying around. Which are still cool and I have a lot of feelings about the incorporation of Hawkgirl, but that’s for another day.
For a little extra fun I threw in links to articles that will explain the science stuff a little better than my non-technical excitement can. Not homework per se, but just a little extra reading.