Entrapta: Another Mad Scientist

By Drew Anderson (@AndersonEvolve)

Entrapta_Character_Profile

I’m a sucker for remade cartoon series from my childhood.  I sat through the originals made in the 1980s and they are just not good; seriously, keep your nostalgia intact and don’t rewatch your childhood favorites (video games hold up though).  After rewatching all nine seasons of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) cartoons, I realized only 2 seasons could be considered good.  Cartoons today are just better written and better animated. I’ve enjoyed Disney’s remake of Ducktales (David Tennant!!), Nickelodeon’s remake of TMNT (also David Tennant for a season), Netflix’s remake of Voltron, and even though it didn’t get a good run, Cartoon Network’s remake of Thundercats.  I’m also happy to introduce these shows to my daughter (she’s almost got the theme song down to Ducktales). Whoo hoo!  

The show I’m going to discuss today is one of my daughter’s favorites and one I’ve made it through all 13 episodes about six times now (twice in spanish!)She-Ra.  This is not a full on review of the show and I have so many thoughts on it (e.g., I find Scorpia more sympathetic than Catra and for all the body positivity, it still falls into the high fantasy depictions of good = beautiful and bad = monstrous).  Instead I want to point out it hits a trope that is quite common in stories with a scientist component: the mad/driven scientist who ignores morality in favor of their discoveries or “progress.” In this case that niche is filled by an admittedly fun and quirky character, Entrapta.

SPOILER ALERT

Our first introduction to Entrapta has her working on First Ones’ tech, causing robots in her kingdom to go crazy and terrorize her people.  She doesn’t care about the harm, only the way the robots react. She only helps Adora and Glimmer because they insist and she’s curious about solving the problem.  When we see her again, the group is invading the Fright Zone and she repeatedly wanders off to investigate something she thought interesting without a care as to why they are there, which was to save Glimmer.  She ends up separated and sneaks around while fiddling with tech; eventually joining Catra so she can “tinker.” Her final experiment literally destabilizes the world and she is fascinated. If any player in a D&D campaign asks to be Chaotic Neutral, I would have them watch her so they would understand how bad an idea that is.  She doesn’t mean harm, she only is only interested in learning things, regardless of the outcome.

SPOILERS END HERE

Media loves to paint scientists as uncaring or willing to ignore what is right for the sake of their discoveries.  Sometimes their motivations are good (The Lizard, Dr. Octopus, Dr. MalusJessica Jones), others just want progress (Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. WuJurassic Park), others have gone insane (Drs. Isley, Quinzel, and DoomPoison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Dr. Doom respectively).  Even good scientists are often portrayed as eccentric (Dr. MalcolmJurassic Park, Dr. Okun and David Levinson—Independence Day), aloof (Dr. Strange), or careless with their work (Iron Man, Dr. Banner, Dr. BrundleThe Fly).

Society seems to view scientists as apart from society rather than part of society.  What’s interesting about that is that in science ethics class we, as scientists, are asked to keep tabs on our thoughts and opinions while not letting them interfere as we work on our results.  In general, we’re asked to only provide results and advice as well as to identify potential sources of bias and conflict. Many of us though do care a lot about society and those around us, so some feel the need to speak up and participate.  Applied scientists, those that work on things with direct benefits to the public, are especially important in this respect, as their discoveries and how they’re used directly affect society. Basic scientists, those that determine how the world works, without directly trying to affect society, are also important, but their work is farther removed from direct application.  Even still, we are hardly uncaring or willing to cause harm (even unintentionally).

That’s not to say scientists haven’t been involved in some horrible things.  Most recently we have had the CRISPR-modified babies, there was that whole period of eugenics (which isn’t gone considering the debate on using CRISPR on embryos), and the racist/sexist history of human experimentation.  We can also notice the list I provided above isn’t diverse and the two female examples I’ve come up with aren’t treated kindly in their depictions, but this is about personality tropes, as Entrapta works independently of whatever physical representation she’s given.

While we do see some good scientists (Peter Parker, Dr. Wattney—The Martian, and Shuri—Black Panther), Hollywood still could do a better job of realizing that scientists are people with the same strengths and failings as anyone else.  We are diverse in our personalities and mannerisms, despite common perception we’re not all INTJ on Briggs-Meyer (which is bunk test by the way).  We even have different aspirations; for example, I would like to learn some things about sexual selection and contribute to the knowledge base while teaching others, but I don’t have grand aspirations of transforming the field (though if I made a discovery that did, I would certainly be excited).  So perhaps, some writers would be better thinking of character traits and motivations before assigning them “scientist”, as it might just make for a more compelling and different story.

Got thoughts/feedback?  Can you think of any pop culture scientists that aren’t eccentric/oblivious/unintentionally harmful (i.e., a “normal”-ish personwe’re all different)?

 

Hit us up @SciQuests  

Family Life in Graduate School

Drew Anderson  (@AndersonEvolve)

I have recently seen many great takes on Twitter about the need to balance personal life and student life and how schools don’t always foster that kind of mindset.  Yes, being in graduate school makes it hard to keep yourself happy and keep your married/cohabitating/romantic life happy, but one thing that isn’t discussed is the challenges that arise from having a family of your own.  Full disclaimer, I have a family and am fortunate enough to have the support structure necessary to keep on track and be there for my daughter. Most of what I point out has been fairly easy for me to address, but I cannot imagine the trials someone endures in grad school who does not have family support or is a single parent.  

While most principal investigators (PIs) are supportive of graduate students and postdocs who are already parents or expecting to become parent, the general advice I’ve come across for grad students is to not have children in graduate school or delay until you are writing.  While, given the way graduate school works, this advice makes practical sense; that doesn’t make it right. I know people who want children earlier in their lives so they can have their nest empty sooner and/or be healthier and more active to keep up with their children. My decision was based on time, my wife and I have passed the point where each year of life now puts a pregnancy at more risk and we didn’t want to keep waiting.  It is also possible that someone didn’t intend pregnancy, but made a personal choice to keep their child. Whatever the reason, asking someone to change their reproduction to fit graduate school rather than the other way around is unacceptable.

My daughter didn’t arrive until the last of my benchwork was completed, but I have continued on with analysis and writing.  The idea that writing is somehow not hampered by childcare is laughable. I think I would be able to manage benchwork better than writing, as writing takes more mental effort and takes some time to get productive (I need a least a 2 hour block to get some quality writing in).  This type of stuff though is typical of any job and any stage of your career; getting things done while parenting is the gig and people have been doing it a long time.

Where graduate school often fails compared to other jobs is time and money.  My PI was kind enough to allow me flexible hours, so I could split care with my wife and mother-in-law, and I had a team-taught lab where I front-loaded the work in anticipation of her birth and my co-teaching assistant took on the brunt of work on the back end.  As you can see I had two people to split time of care with and was able to have my job work with me as well. I don’t think many graduate students would have this luxury. With the wrong PI, such as one who demands 60+ hours of work and must come in on weekends, a new parent would be quickly overrun and extremely stressed.  Also worth noting, I was able to teach/work right up until the week she was born and was back around the lab the week after–something a female student who actually is pregnant may not be able to do.

So how do graduate programs work with students bringing in a family?  One school I looked at offered 6 months paid parental leave and pushed back your graduation date 6 months, with no penalty for the delay, but I haven’t heard of many programs offering this kind of deal.  While I don’t regret my academic decision of my current program, that deal would have been great for me. Finding a groove between childcare and work takes time and those first few months are challenging, so knowing that your graduation and pay won’t be affected as you figure it out is important.  

Childcare is also really important and something schools don’t offer help on.  Both my wife and I work, but can balance our schedules to makes sure we’re home or a family member can watch our daughter.  The alternative is childcare centers, which have long wait times and can be expensive. Here in Texas, the childcare situation isn’t great as the cheaper care centers are often unlicensed.  My university offers a childcare center (with a wait list), but even with the student discount it would cost ~40% of my take-home income. In addition, the center only offers 5 day care, meaning I can’t reduce the cost by only having them watch her for only 2 or 3 days.

By now you’ve probably realized that issues with childcare in graduate school are the same as childcare for lower-income families because that is what most graduate students are.  By having a wonderful partner (my wife), some extra hands, and a family support structure should I need it, I have avoided many of these problems. I believe though that institutions of higher learning should not exclude people (albeit unintentionally from demanding hours and lack of childcare options) simply because they have a family.  They should work to alleviate some of the stress that having children puts on parents so students can earn their diplomas and hopefully elevate their family and contribute to science.

I know there are likely more issues that haven’t crossed my mind.  There is a whole other discussion on social impacts and expectations based on gender that I didn’t even wade into.  If you would like to share your thoughts, please hit us up on Twitter!

@SciQuests  

Caloric Requirements of Superheroes

By Scott Mattison (@FoolsPizza)

The average person burns around 2000 calories a day. This approximation is found on pretty much every food wrapper when they provide your “estimated daily values”. Superheroes aren’t average people and likely need an above average caloric intake. Below are some very basic approximations to determine the number of Calories a superhero burns when using their power for 1 minute

calories
Number of Calories burned per minute by various superheroes.

If you are still reading, you are probably curious how I came up with these values. So let’s go through them based on their powers. First of all I should probably define what a Calorie is. Calories are a unit measure of energy and Calories as reported on food are actually 1000 calories (with a lower case “c”). 1 calorie is the energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius.

Flash & Dash

Both Flash and Dash’s caloric requirements are based on estimated VO2 maximum converted to Calories. VO2 max is the measurement of the maximum possible oxygen that may be utilized during exercise. I estimated VO2 max using ACMS running VO2 equation which provides a very rough approximation based on body weight, speed, and incline.  So to calculate VO2 max, I needed to first find the top speed of Flash and Dash.

The Flash’s top speed varies wildly in the comic books, sometimes being shown as capable of running faster than the speed of light other times he has a maximum speed around Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound, or 1029 m/s).

Dash is a bit harder to estimate as there is much less data to work from, but I based my estimation on the scene in “The Incredibles” where Dash gets caught on camera placing a tack on the teacher’s chair. The camera which is likely updating between 24 and 30 frames per second and Dash traverses the distance from the back of the room to the teachers desk and back (roughly 30 feet) within one camera frame so I estimate Dash’s top speed to be 220 m/s. This is reasonable as we never see Dash break the sound barrier in either Incredibles movie.

Wolverine

Wolverine was probably the hardest to estimate and is most likely the most incorrect of all of my approximations; however, if anything, this estimate is low. Wolverine’s primary power is a healing factor that allows him to recover from almost any injury. The speed at rate his healing factor works is a little bit of a debate, so I have to make some assumptions. I settled on the assumption that Wolverine can heal a broken bone in a minute. (This is obviously a little silly since his bones are practically unbreakable due to the Adamantium bonded to them).

The energy expended by the body due to injury is also difficult to estimate, but many sources recommend an increased intake of 400-500 Calories per day while healing from a broken bone and it takes 6 – 8 weeks for the body to repair a minor fracture. Thus it takes ~16800 Calories for the body to repair a broken bone.

Batman

Batman may not have any super powers (except maybe always having a plan somehow), but he is trained in several forms of hand to hand combat. A quick search estimates that a high intensity martial arts session may burn up to 960 Calories in 30 minutes.

Jean Grey

Jean Grey’s powers of telepathy allow her to lift objects with her mind. Lifting any object requires energy in the form of weight of the object multiplied by the height the object is lifted. When not The Phoenix, Jean Grey has demonstrated the ability to lift objects up to nearly 50 tons. Assuming she lifts this weight at a rate of 10 meters per minute (possibly a low estimate) this would required 1063 Calories of energy.

Bonus: Scott Summers aka Cyclops

This blog post was originally conceived around the idea that Cyclops’ optic blasts would require an insane amount of energy to sustain. However, during my initial research I learned that Cyclops is not actually emitting lasers from his eyes, but is instead opening an aperture to another dimension and allowing energy from that dimension to enter ours. So yeah, you learn something new every day. However, going with my original idea, what would happen if someone like Cyclops existed that could actually emit lasers from their eyes (like Superman, but not solar powered).

Cyclops’ optic blasts emit 2 Gigawatts of energy (2 * 109 Joules/second). There are 4184 Joules in a Calorie, which means that in one minute, our Cyclops equivalent would burn 28680688 Calories