11/14/10

The Science of... Flash #108


The tagline to my blog is "everything I know, I've learned from comics." In a way this is completely true, since my original love for learning came from the comics I read. The Flash was especially inspiring, not only because of the superheroics, but because the writer & editor, John Broome and Julius Schwartz, put so many details into the stories. I especially liked the science tid-bits, not always factual, but always carefully documented with a footnote. Let me point out a couple I found in Flash #108.
Fulgurites - In "The Speed Doom!" other-dimensional aliens have been stealing items that were imbued with super speed, such as some fulgurites. According to the editor's note: "A fulgurite is fused sand or rock formed by the action of lightning!" Of course police-scientist Barry Allen knows all about fulgurites and he uses this bit of knowledge to crack the case.

Photo of an actual fulgurite
The Speed of Light - In the course of investigation he's tricked onto a treadmill which is designed to steal the Flash's speed. In a desperate attempt to escape the trap he runs faster than 186,234 miles per second, which is the speed of light. Despite science to the contrary, the Flash breaks this barrier and foils the trap.
 
Evolution - In "The Super-Gorilla's Secret Identity!" Grodd has invented an "Evolution-Accelerator" to advance him along the evolutionary track. Unfortunately, Grodd seems to have fallen victim to the same misapprehension as the Pokemon brood in believing that he can evolve himself. Evolution by definition takes place over generations. Perhaps Grodd meant that he was going to metamorphosize himself, or perhaps cause himself to mutate. Still, that proves even a super-gorilla can make mistakes, which is a good thing for the Flash.
 
A few pages later The Flash attempts to capture Grodd, and demonstrates two scientific principles and raises a philosophical one in just a few frames. First, he puts on such a burst of super speed that his shoes cause friction to ignite the Oxygen in the air, noting that our atmosphere contains Oxygen, and that friction can cause heat. Secondly, he cites the "irresistible force paradox," which boggled my mind in my younger days. Briefly stated: "What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" Wikipedia mentions that the paradox is most often discussed in the context of God's omnipotence ("Can God create a stone so heavy it cannot be lifted, not even by God Himself?"), but I always imagined this as Flash's speed meeting Superman's invulnerability.
Thanks to the DC Comics Database for the summary of the plot.
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