On Zero Matter

zero-matter-containedOver at Marvel, I chatted with actor Reggie Austin (Dr. Jason Wilkes on Agent Carter) some more about the physics I helped embed in the show this season. It was fun. (See an earlier chat here.) This was about Zero Matter itself (which will also be a precursor to things seen in the movie Dr. Strange later this year)… It was one of the first things the writers asked me about when I first met them, and we brainstormed about things like what it should be called (the name “dark force” comes later in Marvel history), and how a scientist who encountered it would contain it. This got me thinking about things like perfect fluids, plasma physics, exotic phases of materials, magnetic fields, and the like (sadly the interview skips a lot of what I said about those)… and to the writers’ and show-runners’ enormous credit, lots of these concepts were allowed to appear in the show in various ways, including (versions of) two containment designs that I sketched out. Anyway, have a look in the embed below.

Oh! The name. We did not settle on a name after the first meeting, but one of the things I suggested was that scientists can be very playful when it comes to naming things (Examples include X-rays, quarks and LGM-1 from physics, sonic hedgehog from biology, etc…)

Later, when I saw the first script I saw that the name “Element 0” was chosen, since it “did not fit anywhere in the periodic table”. This resulted in my first email back to the writers with the word “URGENT” in the subject line, since I wanted to make sure scenes weren’t shot before I could suggest a change. It was a playful notion, but I urged them to reconsider since this would be confusing. There is already something that has rights (in some sense) to the position 0 in the periodic table: Neutronium. That’s really quite different stuff from what this would be physically. Neutron stars are made of that stuff (in real physics) – also (at least in old comics-meets-physics speculations) Thor’s hammer. So that would be really not a good term. The term “Zero Matter” emerged in further discussion it seems (I can’t claim credit for that – I was not there), and I really like that name.


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32 Responses to On Zero Matter

  1. Sean says:

    How does, our world physics have a place in the Marvel universe? It’s hardly real, the physics of our universe would would be completely different to Marvel’s. I would have thought Marvels universe could only exist as computer programs or TV show.

  2. Clifford says:

    Hi Sean,

    Great question. If someone is designing a totally new fictional world, it makes sense to get advice from someone who knows how the real world works. It helps you design something that feels real, immersive, etc… which is what you need for good storytelling. So applying the principles and ideas from real science to fictional worlds makes practical sense for that reason. Also, the real world is hugely inspiring for interesting physics… it is almost always more interesting than stuff people make up. My job is the study of how the real universe works, and so I use that knowledge to help/advise storytellers in building their universes. Beyond that, there’s a ton of other stuff that a science advisor helps with too, most of it viewers don’t notice consciously, but benefit from nonetheless, and it all helps with the reality and believability of the whole experience… and it turns out to be hugely important, since most people get their impressions of science and scientists from fiction! This includes stuff like helping make the scientists and *how* they do their science (real or made up) more true to life.

    Thanks for reading/watching!


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