Art and Science … Again? Yes.

Visual effects in 'Interstellar' resulted in an astronomical discovery about black holes.

When it rains, it shines. Never mind. The variation fails the theme. Still, once again we find ourselves at a nexus of art and science.

Matt Williams of Universe Today explains:

Diagram by Kip Thorne, executive producer of the movie 'Interstellar', showing how a black hole distorts light.While he was working on the film Interstellar, executive producer Kip Thorne was tasked with creating the black hole that would be central to the plot. As a theoretical physicist, he also wanted to create something that was truly realistic and as close to the real thing as movie-goers would ever see.

On the other hand, Christopher Nolan – the film’s director – wanted to create something that would be a visually-mesmerizing experience. As you can see from the image above, they certainly succeeded as far as the aesthetics were concerned. But even more impressive was how the creation of this fictitious black hole led to an actual scientific discovery.

In short, in order to accurately create a visual for the story’s black hole, Kip Thorne produced an entirely new set of equations which guided the special effects team’s rendering software. The end result was a visual representation that accurately depicts what a wormhole/black hole would look like in space.

In truth, it is hard to imagine a better selling point for a science fiction film. Interstellar opens in American theaters November 7.

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Williams, Matt. “The Physics Behind ‘Intellstellar’s’ Visual Effects Was So Good, it Led to a Scientific Discovery”. Universe Today. 23 October 2014.

IBM’s Atomic Punks

We will let Gareth Halfacree explain this coolness beyond cool:

IBM’s research arm has been playing with atoms in order to create what is officially the world’s smallest stop-motion animation feature.

A Boy and His AtomDubbed ‘A Boy and His Atom,’ the animation combines 242 frames of action into a short advert for IBM’s expertise in all things tiny – and does so by having a stick figure befriend a single atom. Oh, and the atom is real: in fact, everything in the animation is constructed from visible atoms, magnified 100 million times using a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) to make the normally invisible building-blocks of matter visible.

Technically, the blobs that form the pixels of the animation aren’t single atoms but molecules of carbon monoxide – a single carbon atom joined to a single oxygen atom. Using the STM and an ultra-sharp needle hovering just one nanometre from the surface of a copper plate, the team is able to attract the molecules and drag them to specific locations – using the unique sound they make to figure out how far the atoms have been moved.

It sounds like a mantra: Study hard, and you, too, can make movies out of atoms when you grow up. But it’s not just about the exponential coolness:

IBM is hoping that the technology used to create the animation will pave the way forward for novel computer circuits that can bypass the rapidly-approaching physical limits that threaten to put an end to Moore’s Law – the observation, made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, that the number of transistors in a circuit, and therefore its relative performance, doubles roughly every eighteen months. The team behind the animation has already created the world’s smallest magnetic bit, constructed from just 12 atoms – compared to the million atoms a traditional bit takes up on a mechanical hard drive.

Yeah, saving the world by being cool, one atom at a time.

Okay, so the world will do fine without 128 zeptobyte data storage in our wristwatches, but still ….