Visualizing Zero Matter

zero-matter-in-actionWired has a video piece about the VFX work done on Agent Carter to bring the substance known as “zero matter” to your screens. They very kindly mentioned me, which is a pleasant surprise. There was a lot of conversation early on with the writers, show runners, and the head of VFX (Sheena Duggal), discussing what it might look like, and what kind of aesthetic drivers were in play for the look of the show overall (less ZAP! and more ooze and flow), and what you see on screen is the result of a lot of that conversation. It’s really great to see so much of what we brainstormed make it up on screen. The main physics input I wanted to use as a guide was the idea that this is some sort of special fluid from “elsewhere”, in a very special physical phase (inspired by various super fluids and perfect fluids in actual physics from our world, which I explained a bit about to them…Sheena was also very taken with ferrofluids, which was a very smart design input to use as reference). We also talked a lot about the idea that zero matter manifests itself in different ways depending upon the biology of the host. (See a post I did about other aspects of zero matter here, including the naming of it, and “elsewhere”.)

The amazing company Double Negative played a huge role overall, doing the rendering and bringing all sort of techniques to bear to make it all work. You’ll maybe recognize that name since they were the people who worked with physicist Kip Thorne […] Click to continue reading this post

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 […] Click to continue reading this post

Suited Up!

war_gear_smYes, I was in battle again. A persistent skunk that wants to take up residence in the crawl space. I got rid of it last week, having found one place it broke in. This involved a lot of crawling around on my belly armed with a headlamp (not pictured – this is an old picture) and curses. I’ve done this before… It left. Then yesterday I found a new place it had broken in through and the battle was rejoined. Interestingly, this time it decided to hide after some of the back and forth and I lost track of it for a good while and was about to give up and hope it will feel unsafe with all the lights I’d put on down there (and/or encourage it further to leave by deploying nuclear weapons to match the ones it comes armed with*).

In preparation for this I left open the large access hatch and sprinkled a layer […] Click to continue reading this post

WSJ Piece On Science and Entertainment

wall_street_journal_snapIt’s nice to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning when my mum is visiting me. But where does one go to actually buy a newspaper?!

The nice piece, by Erich Schwartzel, is about the work the Science and Entertainment exchange, working with scientists like myself does in the entertainment industry. It opens by reporting on a conversation I was having at that Back to the Future […] Click to continue reading this post

Gown Uses…

Well, finally since arriving here in 2003 I’ve found a good use for the academic gown that sits on a hook on the back of my door! It is a master’s gown from Durham University. I had it while I was on the faculty there as I’d joined the excellent University College (housed in the awesome Durham Castle) so that I could have dinner at high table there from time to time (largely because of the aforementioned Castle). Since leaving there and coming here, it has sat largely undisturbed. But today, while crossing campus in a wonderful downpour, my trouser legs got rather soaked (umbrellas and trenchcoats have their limitations), and so I’m now sitting in my office trouser-less while they dry. Needless to say, my door is closed, and just in case […] Click to continue reading this post

The New Space…

office_drawing_final copyI forgot to mention that (after a lot of delays and internal administrative nonsense that I will spare you the details of) I was finally able to move into my new office, toward the end of November, only several months after the move was first put into motion. In the first week of the holiday period I was able to do some unpacking of some of the books (etc) and setting up various things (like my kettle and coffee pot) essential for the kind of working space I want it to be. It’ll be an interesting space, from some points of view… perhaps unusually combining production of objects and ideas from both the science and the art worlds, and lots in between. As you know, I have several projects that involve both, and they’ll come together in this space.

I updated the drawing (click for larger view) to include some adjustments I made to the layout* (see […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXXII – Equation Wrangler (Again)

notes_for_a_show_smallThose pages of notes are from a couple of weeks back (I did not get time to post about it – been busy). I’ve had to blur pretty much everything on them since although they were real physics computations, they are for an episode of the TV show Agent Carter, and a few of you might be able to read the equations and with a bit of educated guesswork perhaps figure out elements of the show. I don’t reveal details of that sort without permission, as you know by now. Anyway, it was interesting to do (on this and some other occasions for this show), since from the scripts I get to interpret what I think the scientist involved is thinking about and working on at a very technical level, and then create some of their scribblings that you’ll see when looking over their shoulder. This case was particularly fun to do since a lot of the material is […] Click to continue reading this post

The New Improved Scooby-Gang? (Part 2)

usc_dornsife_frontline_scholars_medium(Click for larger view.) The answer’s still no, but I still amuse myself with the joke. (Alternative forms would have been “The New Expendables Poster?” or “Sneak peek at the Post-Infinity Wars Avengers Lineup?”…) This is a photo that I was thinking would not make it out to the wider world, but that’s probably because I was not paying attention. We spent a lot of time on that rooftop getting that right – no it was not photoshopped, the city is right behind us there – as part of the “Frontline Scholars” campaign for USC’s Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences… and then the next thing I heard from our Dean (pictured three from the right) is that he is now our ex-Dean. So I figured the campaign they were planning would not feature him anymore, and hence this picture would not be used. But I think the photo was actually in use for the campaign for a while and I did not know since I don’t actually pay attention to […] Click to continue reading this post

Happy Centennial, General Relativity!

general_relativity_centennial_kip_thorne(Click for larger view.) Well, I’ve already mentioned why today is such an important day in the history of human thought – One Hundred years of Certitude was the title of the post I used, in talking about the 100th Anniversary (today) of Einstein completing the final equations of General Relativity – and our celebration of it back last Friday went very well indeed. Today on NPR Adam Frank did an excellent job expanding on things a bit, so have a listen here if you like.

As you might recall me saying, I was keen to note and celebrate not just what GR means for science, but for the broader culture too, and two of the highlights of the day were examples of that. The photo above is of Kip Thorne talking about the science (solid General Relativity coupled with some speculative ideas rooted in General Relativity) of the film Interstellar, which as you know […] Click to continue reading this post

The New Improved Scooby-Gang? (Part 1)

This is a group shot from an excellent event I mentioned on here only briefly:


(Click for larger view. Photo from album linked below.) It was on Back to the Future Day… the date (October 21st 2015) that Marty McFly came forward in time to in the second of the BTTF movies… where we found hover boards and so forth, if you recall. The Science and Entertainment Exchange hosted a packed event at the Great Company (in downtown LA) which had several wonderful things and people, including some of the props from the films, the designer of lots of the props from the films, a ballroom done up like the high school prom of the first film, the actor who played George McFly (in the second two films), an actual DeLorean, and so much more. Oh! Also four experts who talked a bit about aspects of the science and other technical matters in the movies, such as […] Click to continue reading this post

One Hundred Years of Certitude

Einstein_CentennialSince the early Summer I’ve been working (with the help of several people at USC*) toward a big event next Friday: A celebration of 100 years since Einstein formulated the field equations of General Relativity, a theory which is one of the top one or few (depending upon who you argue with over beers about this) scientific achievements in the history of human thought. The event is a collaboration between the USC Harman Academy of Polymathic Study and the LAIH, which I co-direct. I chose the title of this post since (putting aside the obvious desire to resonate with a certain great work of literature) this remarkable scientific framework has proven to be a remarkably robust and accurate model of how our universe’s gravity actually works in every area it has been tested with experiment and observation**. Despite being all about bizarre things like warped spacetime, slowing down time, and so forth, which most people think is to do only with science fiction. (And yes, you probably test it every day through your […] Click to continue reading this post