The non-science of Fringe: The Cure

Fringe: Season 1: Episode 6: “The Cure”

Workwear for the fringe scientist.

Workwear for the fringe scientist.

More radiation-emitting people this week, though the explanation about where it comes from is still a little lacking. 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.

Exploding head syndrome

We open with bleeding orifices and exploding heads – clearly, someone on the writing team has been watching Scanners. Could you really use microwave radiation to “cook” people? The simple answer is yes – human bodies contain quite a lot of water and fat, which microwave ovens are designed to heat up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the U.S. military is actively developing microwave weapons for “less lethal” crowd control – but it looks like some Shadowy OrganisationTM has beaten them to it, and with a human delivery system to boot!

The many inaccuracies in Walter’s explanations are dealt with comprehensively in the Popular Mechanics article, but in summary strontium-90 does not release microwaves. It is a very weak gamma source, but mostly releases electrons (this behaviour is a type of ionising radiation) and so could not cause extensive heating or internal steam explosions.

Methyl eugenol

Methyl eugenol

Methyl eugenol

Later in the episode, Walter mentions methyl eugenol as smelling like hyacinth flowers. Floral scents are generally a mixture of several smelly chemicals, but methyl eugenol (more properly known as 4-allyl-1,2-dimethoxybenzene) is actually one of hyacinth’s components and is used commercially as an insect lure. Coincidentally, Olivia talks about being able to get into the “headspace” of people – in analytical chemistry, headspace is a term used for the air immediately above a volatile compound (such as methyl eugenol).


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