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January 25, 2015 at 11:17 am

Hicks: Math and Physics Starring in Movies

Interstellar official photo

Interstellar official photo

Dr. Kenneth Hicks, Ohio University Professor of Physics, wrote a column on “Astronomy: Math, physics play starring roles in popular movies” in the Jan. 25 Columbus Dispatch.

This time of year, many people are talking about movies and the Academy Awards. Three movies caught my interest this year: InterstellarThe Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game.

Each one features physics or mathematics in its central theme.

Although Interstellar didn’t get nominated for best picture as did the other two, I’ve had more questions from friends about whether Interstellar is based on real science. One of its producers, Kip Thorne, is a well-known theoretical physicist.

In the movie, astronauts encounter a wormhole that can transport them to a different galaxy. In principle, this is possible, but the energy required to keep a wormhole open is so vast that it’s almost inconceivable that it could exist, unless a far-more-advanced life form put it there (a theme that is hinted at several times in this movie).

The place where Interstellar really breaks down is when the astronauts exit the wormhole and enter a black hole. The gravitational forces near the horizon of the black hole are so strong that the astronauts (and their ship) would be crushed.

Assuming that a more-advanced life form intervenes and keeps the astronauts from being turned into pancakes, the world inside the black hole’s horizon is completely unknown, since this is the realm of quantum gravity….

Read the rest of Hicks’ column in the Dispatch.

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