The non-science of Fringe: The Ghost Network

Fringe: Season 1: Episode 3: “The Ghost Network”

Fringe scientists on the scene.

Fringe scientists on the scene.

You know all these weird things that have been happening? They were planned! And somebody knows about it, but he just thought he was crazy. In this post, I’ll be making the usual comments about how much suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy the show.

This episode is debunked at Popular Mechanics, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. Club.

Preserved in polymer

The opening scene, in what is becoming a familiar pattern (?) of destruction, involves some kind of just-add-air instant polymer. Walter mentions that it was delivered as a silicon aerosol, and that it reacted with nitrogen to form a solid, which, happily, is just about plausible. The container we see would probably be far too small to contain enough material to solidify the entire bus (even though the propellant would be pressurised), but a weaponised version of a chain polymerisation reaction is both sci-fi enough to entertain and fact-based enough not to distract from the story.

The Ghost Network

“A spectrum of waves lying outside the range of those already discovered,” intones Walter – presumably unaware that all possible “waves” (by which he must mean wavelengths) have already been described. While it’s certainly possible (and maybe even likely) that covert organisations are using regions of the electromagnetic spectrum that currently aren’t used by anyone else, suggesting that there are “undiscovered” wavelengths is coming it a bit high.

Seeing as virtually all of the “common” electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves at the long end (103 m) to gamma rays at the short (10-12 m), is already in everyday use, the Ghost Network must utlilise either longer or shorter wavelengths. Shorter wavelengths would be dangerous, as they would be more energetic than X- and gamma rays and thus cause cancer. Longer wavelengths might be possible, but these would require a huge antenna (practically, about one quarter wavelength) – if we assume that Roy’s entire head acts an a receiver, then the long limit of the wavelengths he could receive is about 100 cm (FM radio).

Voices in my head

The appalling science award for this episode must go to Walter’s “iridium-based organometallic compound” that has somehow “multiplied over time”. Chemicals can’t reproduce like living organisms, and even assuming that Roy’s body could synthesise the organic components, the iridium would have to come from an external source. Walter does mention “environment” and “diet”, but iridium is one of the rarest elements on earth and it would be impossible to accumulate high levels accidentally.

If this week’s plot device of someone being affected by secret communications seems a little familiar, it’s because The X-Files already did it in season six (Drive). No Doppler effect relief here, though – it’s brain surgery or nothing!

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