The non-science of Fringe: August

Fringe: Season 2: Episode 8: “August”

The restaurant runs out of chili peppers.

The restaurant runs out of chili peppers.

There’s more than one of everything – even Observers! This episode was refreshingly easy to watch.

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

Random thoughts

That would have to be one of the most expensive security cameras in the world to be able to show the flight of a bullet. We can have a think about what would actually be required with a back-of-the-envelope calculation:

At the slower end, a handgun bullet might travel at 300 m s-1 (just under the speed of sound), and the horizontal distance covered by the camera when Astrid was clicking through video frames was about a metre (based on the size of August’s arm). The bullet travelled about 60 % of the distance, or 0.6 m, in three frames and so we can conclude that each frame lasted for about 0.00067 s, which is 1500 frames per second. By way of comparison, video cameras generally capture around 30 fps.

Once again we can see some old-school communication equipment; this time a dot matrix printer. I posit (Walterism) that communication between the two worlds is only possible with equipment that existed before the event that caused them to diverge. It therefore looks like the two timelines separated in the 1980s, right when Walter was retrieving Peter.

This is bordering on the obsessive, but if Flight 821 went down two hours out of Rome then it could not have been off the Italian coast and was probably not in the Atlantic Ocean. Either it was two hours away and in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Spain or Portugal (or possibly France), or it was in the Mediterranean Sea (or even the Tyrrhenian Sea – technically these are within the Atlantic Ocean, but they are always referred to by their localised names) and closer than two hours to Rome.

The photographs and paintings of The Observer at key points in history reminded me a little of James in 12 Monkeys (he’s shown in a WWI trench). Perhaps it’s also how J. Robert Oppenheimer got the idea for his hat.

As is fairly common knowledge, screw-on silencers (or, more correctly, suppressors) do not “silence” bullets very much at all.

The Lewis Code

We are treated to another chemistry-inspired code this week, this time to do with the Lewis structure of atoms. However, like the code in Earthling it’s pretty much impossible to decipher.

Different atoms have different numbers of electrons, and this is one of the ways we can tell different atoms apart (it’s called the atomic number). However, the Lewis bonding model is all about electrons in the outer shell of an atom (the valence electrons), which are not so unique. Each atom in a group (a vertical column in the periodic table) has the same number of valence electrons as the other atoms in the group – this is one of the reasons why those atoms have similar properties. This means that for every dot diagram that Walter noted, there would be at least four elements that it could match (and possibly six, depending on the group in question).

Walter's Lewis structure code.

Walter's Lewis structure code.

Firstly, Astrid’s code-cracking program would have picked up on some of the repeated symbols – for example, “7”, “As” and “N” are the same. Secondly, the numbers in the address do not seem to correspond to the number of electrons. It seems to be (number of electrons)+2 except in the case of “2”, though how Walter would know this is beyond me (perhaps there isn’t a 2536 Hastings). Thirdly, as I mentioned above, each symbol can represent different atoms (this is illustrated in the code with “As”/”N” and “Ti”/”Ge”). Walter would have found the address with a lot of trial and error, and could easily have gone to the wrong place – for example, by taking other elements in the same groups, we could make vaguely plausible names like “Kassipsis” (K-As-Si-P-Si-S).

A less ambiguous code?

A less ambiguous code?

On top of all that, titanium (Ti) is a transition metal and has partially filled d-orbitals. We do not normally describe transition elements using Lewis structures, as they tend to break the rules – this is one of the reasons why the Lewis model is not used very much in modern chemistry. Titanium does have four valence electrons, but it would be unlikely to come to mind from a Lewis four-electron diagram (though perhaps Walter thinks in unconventional ways).

In order to make the code clearer, there would have to be some method of either identifying the correct period (row), or identifying the number of electron sub-shells underneath the valence shell (though of course this would also make it easier for someone else to decipher). I propose a second symbol (inside the large circle) to identify the electron shell that is being filled, and more dots to identify the correct period. Thus an empty circle would be interpreted as a number, a second circle (s-orbital) as groups I and II, a looped cross (d-orbital) as groups III-XII and a figure of eight (p-orbital) as groups XIII-XVII. The code would then look like the second diagram on the left – more complex but unambiguous.

For background information on this topic, see the primer on atomic structure.

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