Astrophysicist Dr. Andy Howell was first inspired to become an astronomer after seeing Star Wars as a kid. That also gave him a love for the intersection between science and pop culture, and his latest project is a deep dive into Marvel’s Black Panther for the website Film Threat. Howell opens his article with blanket praise for the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe roots its fictional technology in real world science and often consults leading scientists for MCU films. Befitting his detailed-based scientific background, Howell then goes on to explore the science of Black Panther across the course of five YouTube videos and a 4,000-word article. And while that might give you flashbacks to high school homework nightmares, the whole project is incredibly fascinating throughout.
Howell is careful to point out that his examination of pop culture isn’t designed to tear movies apart for bending the rules of real-world science. As he puts it, “My feelings about science in art are similar to how I feel about grammar in writing. Once you know the rules, you can break them to tell a better story. Just don’t screw up out of ignorance.” He also sees his pop culture discussions as a “jumping off point to talk about the related real world science.” And his exploration of Black Panther is the perfect example. While digging into the fictional science of the film, he manages to talk about everything from Japanese isolationism to the piezoelectric effect to modern day sexism in scientific fields to the way real-life ancient civilizations used metals from space in their weaponry. He also shares some really fascinating details about his own role in co-discovering a new kind of explosion called a kilonova after observing two neutron stars merging together, and what that says about the importance of international scientific cooperation.
Howell’s exploration of Black Panther is divided into five sections: Meteorites, vibranium, hologram technology, isolationism, and the film’s portrayal of scientists. Each section corresponds to a short video on Howell’s YouTube channel Science Vs Cinema. The videos and the article largely cover the same information, although the videos have some extra clips, experiments, and interviews while the article digs into some historical events in more detail. In either form, however, Howell’s palpable enthusiasm for science comes through loud and clear—as does his enthusiasm for Black Panther. As he puts it, “Science is already a global enterprise, but it is still biased from a gender and cultural perspective. The more new voices we can inspire and bring into the fold will improve science worldwide. And that improves everyone’s lives, whether it is through new discoveries, or by increasing science literacy. In that sense, Black Panther isn’t just escapist entertainment, it is a turning point.” You can read the full article over on Film Threat and watch more videos on Science Vs Cinema.
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