Issue Date: August 6, 2007
Supervillain Lex Luthor no longer needs to steal KRYPTONITE from museums to fight Superman. Thanks to geologists at Rio Tinto, a London-based mining company, Luthor can get it free in Serbia. All he'll need is a shovel.
The museum heist scene in last year's "Superman Returns" revealed kryptonite's composition to movie fans: sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide with fluorine. Around the same time, far from theaters and beneath the surface of Serbia's Jadar Basin, Rio Tinto geologists stumbled upon an unknown mineral. They sent a sample to London's Natural History Museum (NHM) for identification. Museum mineralogists knew they had a new mineral on their hands, but they had to prove it.
This mineral "was somewhat unusual, in that there was lots of material available, but the crystals were less than 5 µm in size-too small for conventional single-crystal analysis," says Pamela Whitfield, a researcher with Canada's National Research Council. By combining specialty X-ray powder diffraction techniques and computational methods, Whitfield's team determined the crystal's structure as well as its composition, LiNaSiB3O7(OH) (Acta Cryst. 2007, B63, 396)—like the cinematic kryptonite sans fluorine. It was a near match that Whitfield failed to notice but that was not lost on Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at NHM.
The International Mineralogical Association has since recognized the Jadar Basin mineral as new, but to the disappointment of Superman fans, named it "jadarite."
Is it green? Does it glow? Is it radioactive? "No, no, no," says Whitfield. Most likely, jadarite does not have the power to hurt a fly, let alone a flying superhero.
Science: in the cinema, in the bar
"Who would have guessed that particular combination of elements would show up in a real compound?" says Sidney Perkowitz of jadarite. Perkowitz, a physics professor at Emory University, discusses how movies get science right and wrong in his new book "HOLLYWOOD SCIENCE." Perkowitz pointed out that sometimes science fiction "predicts science before the science happens." And sometimes Hollywood's science fiction is just fiction.
Newscripts readers can probably rattle off 10 movies in which the science is less than factual. For example, visit our online feature Reel Science (www.cen-online.org/reelscience). "Even when the science is wrong, the power of these films is so immense that you can use it to teach science," Perkowitz says. Along with film studies lecturer Eddy Von Mueller, Perkowitz teaches "Science in Film" to packed classrooms.
Two movies, one a big-budget action flick, the other a documentary, are among Perkowitz' favorites as teaching tools. "Our course came along when global warming really hit the news," recalls Perkowitz. The professors were set to use "The Day After Tomorrow" to address this issue. "Then Al Gore's documentary came out," Perkowitz says. Both films were used to talk about what's science, what's hype, and what's "Hollywood."
Good or bad, notes Perkowitz, the movies will keep coming. "We should think of it as a teaching tool." Newscripts is excited to finally have a good excuse to skip work and head to the cinema.
James Bond: scientific visionary? "I read somewhere scientists found that shaking a gin martini releases more antioxidants than the stirred version," says Eben Klemm, a former benchtop molecular biologist at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Sciences and current director of cocktail development for B.R. Guest Restaurants. Newscripts has confirmed the existence of the Hollywood-inspired "shaken not stirred" research (BMJ 1999, 319, 1600), research that Klemm dismisses as a matter of taste. "I prefer a stirred martini," he says. "Only then do you get the great complexity and stillness that is a martini."
For just about every other cocktail, Klemm recommends following Bond's edict. "Only proper shaking generates the supreme emulsion that makes a great drink," Klemm says. He exchanged biology for MIXOLOGY and brought the scientific method to the bar. "Believe me," he says. "The experiments are very rewarding."
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