The non-science of Fringe: Alone in the World

Fringe | Season 4 | Episode 3 | “Alone in the World”

Olivia and Lincoln investigate the latest Fringe event.

Olivia and Lincoln investigate the latest Fringe event.

The overplot stalls for a week as the Fringe-1 team tackle a sentient fungus the only way they know how – ineptly and with no attempt at communication.

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

Random thoughts

A labmda sensor sounds like something that the writers might have made up, but it actually is a real-world oxygen sensor. It is essentially a solid oxide fuel cell, with the voltage across the cell being proportional to the amount of oxygen in the sample gas versus that of a reference gas (usually clean air). Lambda sensors are so-named because they are often used in car exhaust fuel sensors – the oxygen in the exhaust is indicative of the air-to-fuel ratio (λ) in the engine.

Cordyceps is a real genus of fungi, and includes the recently-famous “zombie ant” species Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. It’s a very apt choice given the episode’s commentary on its parasitic nature.

Ultraviolet light might destroy the fungus, or the fungus might have evolved some kind of resistance to it. Flamethrowers give you more certainty, but the exterminators make two possibly fatal errors: They are not wearing full protective gear (no head/face coverings, not even sunglasses) and they are setting huge fires in a confined space (exposing everyone to toxic fumes, spores and/or severe oxygen depletion).

As was probably obvious to everyone except the characters, it is a terrible idea to wander around a dangerous fungus site (a fungus that has demonstrated its ability to emit spores and kill people) without any kind of protective gear whatsoever.

Walter reconfigures the neurostimulator for magnetic resonance, which sounds fine in theory but falls short when we consider that there is no high-strength magnetic field like in an actual MRI facility.


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