Movie/Technology Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Movie/Technology Review
Guardians of the Galaxy

"Perhaps the single most fascinating object in the movie was a directed artificial gravity generator"


Hello friends,

we are back with another movie review - Guardians of the Galaxy. It should still be playing at a theater in your town or city and If you can, go and see it on the big screen. Its a spectacular movie. The story is okay but the visuals are sumptuous and the alien characters the most interesting outside of Star Wars. I mention Star Wars in particular because this this movie is not set on Earth unlike pretty much any other superhero movie. The same is true of the Star Wars movies which in fact claim to be set in a different galaxy altogether. As usual, we will be talking about some of the interesting science shown in the movie. So a quick reminder that the following paragraphs will reveal some parts of the movie and if you would like to see the movie first, go ahead, see the movie and then come back. This review is not going anywhere :-)

Artificial Gravity: Perhaps the single most fascinating object in the movie was a directed artificial gravity  generator. Artificial gravity is not new and directing it in a particular direction is also feasible. However, I don't know of a device that can do it in a arbitrary direction without itself moving in any way. In the movie, one of the guardians uses it to good effect on two different occasions. Once to steal something and another time to thwart the attacks of some men. We know that certain uses such as in spacecrafts when they are in Space traveling are necessary but a myriad other uses could be found. We could use them to shape landmasses without using explosives, hold together objects that are otherwise dangerous to be held, gently extract foreign bodies from a patient without surgery etc. Clearly, this technology would be a game changer in many ways. However, we do think that given the powerful ways it could be misused, it is unlikely to be available as a general product. However, as of now, this is all speculation. There is simply no way to generate artifical directed gravity without moving the gravity generator itself.

Head protector: We have addressed the question of human fragility several times before. We know that at high altitudes, great depths in water or even under high gravities, human beings can easily die and need protective suits. At the very least, a breathing apparatus. A cool gadget that is shown in the movie is small device worn by the human guardian. It lies on the ear close to the neck but when triggered, almost instantaneously creates a bubble around the head of the person. This bubble performs a number of functions:
protects the skin, provides breathable air, provides enhanced vision, displays information, allows the person to talk and most of all regulates the temperature and pressure inside the bubble. When I saw this apparatus, I was stunned. I cannot think of any technology that can do all that together and still take up such a small space (and presumably a small weight). It would be nice though to have this bubble whenever we enter an unfamiliar environment or to simply be cautious when needed. All divers, miners, high altitude aircaft pilots would love to do away with the massive equipment that they have to carry to ensure their safety and productivity. No doubt the same reasons will apply when our astronauts land on unknown habitable planets.


Propulsion Boots: A minor but useful gadget shown in the movie are shoes with thrusters in them. This allows the character to propel himself in space and cross/jump small cracks/chasms when on land. Since lifting a 80-100kg weight into the air requires significant effort, in today's technology, some very expensive type of fuel would be needed to fit into a boot and yet be light enough and safe enough for the boot in everyday use or even sometimes to be used in a rough fashion. Moreover, a very tight control on the exhaust would be required to prevent a human being from toppling over or going in the wrong direction. Note that lateral movement is nearly impossible from only vertical thrusters so there are indeed some limitations. As we saw in the movie Gravity, astronauts currently use compressed air but that still takes up a huge amount of space for any appreciable thrust. A fuel that can burn on land and in the absence of air (in space) while still having all the above characteristics would be greatly useful to astronauts.

Energy Shields: In one memorable scene in the movie, a number of aircrafts come together to form a shield (like a fish net) which prevents physical movement of a very powerful spaceship. Spooky action at a distance by Einstein (i.e. quantum entanglement) is a well known concept and in fact has even recently been proved in experiments. However that acts more like a mirror of actions. Even in normal physics, Energy affecting matter at a distance is quite well established. Sound waves, heat or even light can cause a physical movement of remote particles/objects. However, constructive interference of the sound waves or light waves to create a cohesive
action against a massive object is still science fiction. The uses, both mundane and exotic will change the very nature of transporting and movement of heavy objects. Imagine if a space station above Earth could simply lift containers from one place and deposited them elsewhere - so much of the pollution would go away. Imagine if energy shields could block missiles or a thunderstorm. It will be amazing if something like force fields do actually come about.

FTL: Soon after the movie starts, a central character (who's a human child and later on becomes one of the "Guardians") gets whisked into a different part of the galaxy where he presumably grows up. Later on in the movie, the group of "Guardians" cross an entire galaxy to confront a villian. Since the diameter of the Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 light years, theoretically, even a light speed ship would take much longer than a human lifespan to cross a galaxy. Hence FTL (faster than light) which is well explored subject in fiction and movies is used often in the movie. Moreover, the space ships that accomplish this look quite small. This implies that these space ships are employing not just self-propulsion but tapping a much larger source of energy.

Essentially, a fundamentally different approach to travel. So what could it be? Gravity wells?  Wormholes? Black holes?  Dark matter? Something else? The movie does not elaborate. The benefits of such high speed travel will be enormous. Imagine galactic commerce, vacations or even the pedantic uses such as harnessing the energy of gas giants and suns and directing them to habitable planets. We would need to be cautious too since dangers such as epidemics and clashes in idealogies would occur too. And how would you search for something or someone across a galaxy? Some very interesting use cases and challenges would arise out of FTL.  All of these things are presently unthinkable but given the research into the fundamental forces of the Universe, such as those carried out at CERN with the LHC, we hope that soon physicists will shine a light into what is possible.

Universal communication: We have discussed this before. As in the world of Star Wars, in this movie's universe, nearly all characters speak a universal language and deal with a universal currency. From our experiences on Earth, we think this is extremely unlikely.  How would we communicate with aliens when we cannot even communicate with animals on Earth?  However, it would not too far fetched to assume that were science to become sufficiently advanced, universal language translators would be a compulsory accessory of any
galactic citizen. An equally interesting problem is that of universal currency. However, it looks like newer digital only currencies like BitCoin  might point the way to the future.

So let us dream big and work together so that we get to see some of these technologies in our own lifetime.



Azeem Khan

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