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Star Wars and Beyond: Physics in Film

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

Lightsabers clash in a galaxy far far away as a pair of droids walk slowly towards the setting of the twin suns.

In the world of cinema, science fiction has been experiencing an exciting revival. With the rebooting of the Star Wars franchise and grand offerings like The Martian, Interstellar, and Gravity, our screens are flooded with dazzling depictions of space and technology. What’s more, many of these new films promise to be more scientifically accurate, even as they show us wormholes and space stations, time distortion and intelligent robotics.

In this course, we put those claims to the test. Through classroom discussion, activities, and problem-solving sessions we will separate science fact from science fiction. Are lightsabers possible? Can we hope to visit distant galaxies? How much energy would it actually take to blow up a planet (like the Death Star does)? What really happens if you step out of a spaceship without a suit? Why do x-wings have...well...wings? The answers to these questions may surprise you!

Complementing our analysis will be an exploration of physics. We’ll see how to compute the distance to other stars using parallax. We’ll find parallels for life on other planets by examining the curious extremophiles that exist here on Earth. We’ll see why Einstein’s theory of special relativity might invalidate the entire plot of Return of the Jedi.

The only prerequisites are an interest in science and an appreciation for science fiction. Some comfort with mathematics will also be useful.

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