The science of Breaking Bad: Felina

December 15, 2013

Breaking Bad | Season 5 | Episode 16 | “Felina”

Walt and his baby blue part ways.

Walt and his baby blue part ways.

After six years, Breaking Bad is finally over – a Shakespearean tragedy in five acts and one of the defining television shows of modern times. There’s little I can say below that hasn’t been covered elsewhere, though Walt probably summed it up best with his simple “It’s over.”

This episode is reviewed at Emilia Jordan and the A.V. Club, and you can read more about it at AMC and IMDb.

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The non-science of Fringe: Nothing As It Seems

December 18, 2012

Fringe | Season 4 | Episode 16 | “Nothing As It Seems”

Walter, Astrid and Lincoln check on how this person got past the TSA.

Walter, Astrid and Lincoln check on how this person got past the TSA.

A blast from the past this week as the porcupine monsters from The Transformation reappear and turn out to be connected to a David Jones plotline.

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

It was kind of hard to go along with the science (again) this week, and criticisms of it have been dealt with elsewhere. Not much that hasn’t been said before.

The glyph that appears on the boat door and on the cult members appears to be the Cuneiform sign NE, which in Sumerian means “fire”.


The non-science of Fringe: Os

March 13, 2011

Fringe : Season 3 : Episode 16 : “Os”

The Fringe team investigates flying thieves.

The Fringe team investigates flying thieves.

It was only a matter of time before Fringe got round to anti-gravity, and they explained it away quite neatly without having to resort to improbable physics (it was the other universe, innit). Also, William Bell is back and possessed of a new, youthful body. Will Peter ever be able to find Olivia attractive again? Tune in next week!

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

Walter quotes from the Tragedy of Icarus, but I have no idea which translation/version. I thought that Peter would have made a quip about Icarus falling to Earth instead of floating, but we a rather flat observation from Broyles instead.

Osmium is extremely dense, but it’s not correct to say that it’s the “heaviest” element. Atomic weight typically refers to the weight of the atomic nucleus (i.e. the number of protons and neutrons a nucleus contains), and not the bulk weight of a sample of specific volume. The heaviest naturally-occurring element is plutonium, which is technically unstable but has such a long half-life (about 80 million years) that it is still found in nature. Other than this slight misnomer, all Osmium-related fakts corect for a change.

I know that we are supposed to suspend some disbelief when thinking about the impossibilities that appear on Fringe, but if the blood test on the dead thief didn’t show any osmium (or lutetium) until the effects of the serum wore off, it must have been physically changed into something else. Of course, they might not routinely check for heavy metals but one would think that they’d be as thorough as possible.

Osmium normally melts at about 3300 K, and I’m really confused about why it was necessary to reveal that it now melted at 77 K in reverse. We were already on board with the whole “Universe-2 is messing things up” concept, and this just added a whole new layer of ridiculous.

Lutetium is found on Earth (rather than in meteorites), though it is quite rare, and 176Lu is often used to date meteorites due to its very long half-life, but meteorites would not be considered a good source. Krick appears to be using a UV light and what is probably either a Geiger counter or a magnetometer to find it. These would not be great tools with which to detect a specific element, because so many elements and minerals fluoresce, affect magnetic fields (meteorites usually have a high iron and nickel content) and/or are radioactive. It’s possible that Krick is using a UV light and some kind of spectrometer to look for lutetium’s characteristic absorption lines, but it would be almost impossible to do that in the open air with so many other light sources shining into the detector.

How much Os/Lu would be needed to lift a person? Even assuming that they combine with things in the body (which they must, otherwise all the syringes and containers would be floating off), probably a lot more than the 10 ml or so we see being injected. And another thing: If the Os and Lu return to their normal states when the serum wears off, and the body of the first thief is too heavy for Walter and Astrid to move, how can Krick carry and use the syringe so easily if the serum is the only source of the metals? Something doesn’t quite add up. Let’s just say that it’s Universe-2 “returning” the gravity that it borrowed (physics is a bitch, right?).


The non-science of Fringe: Peter

April 17, 2010

Fringe: Season 2: Episode 16: “Peter”

An increasingly desperate Walter.

An increasingly desperate Walter.

Walter’s secret is finally out, but it was revealed to be as much an act of compassion as one of selfishness. The highly speculative nature of the universe-crossing aside, this episode was refreshingly easy to watch.

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

Random thoughts

Health and safety regulations were not strongly enforced in 1985, as nobody should be wearing a short skirt in a laboratory (nor using open flames).

Walternate (I prefer Walterego) is using a fairly modern three-necked round-bottomed flask with a magnetic stirrer for his experiments. We can see that at some point the mixture requires a gas atmosphere (this usually means an oxygen- or water-sensitive reaction), but it’s currently not too reactive as he’s adding material from a separating funnel down an open neck.

The whiteboard where Walter is keeping track of Walternate’s experiments seems to contain a random assortment of pairs of elements. However, seaborgium (Sg) wasn’t an element in 1985 as its discovery wasn’t confirmed until 1993 and the argument over naming it wasn’t settled until 1997.


The non-science of Fringe: Unleashed

October 28, 2009

Fringe: Season 1: Episode 16: “Unleashed”

Walter reflects on his experiments.

Walter reflects on his experiments.

A stark warning to all animal rights activists: sooner or later, you might break into a real-life Resident Evil. 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 Polite Dissent, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. Club.

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