Science, Fiction, Life

Month: July 2010

Force Fields and Plasma Shields

I was always a fan of the Protoss: super-advanced technology, powerful units, and those awesome plasma shields protecting everything from the lowliest probe to gigantic carriers. But I always wondered: could those force fields really work?

Well… Sort of.

It really depends on your definition of a force field and what you want to prevent from passing through. Electric and magnetic fields can exert forces on charged objects, so you could call those “force fields.” If you accept that definition, then there have actually been some NASA studies of how to use force fields on spacecraft and lunar bases.

One of the biggest problems facing human space exploration (aside from the politics) is that space is a dangerous place for humans. Even if we can launch people to Mars, there is a lot of radiation out there, both from the sun and from high-energy events out in the galaxy. That’s why two studies at NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (which has, sadly, been canceled due to lack of funding) looked into deflecting the radiation with electromagnetic shields. Continue reading

The Real Science of Starcraft 2

The Overmind

Well folks, it looks like I’m not the only one interested in the Science of Starcraft! The gaming site GamePro has a very interesting article taking a look at several aspects of StarCraft science, including teleportation, zerg in space, a hive mind, and hybrid species. They cover each topic pretty quickly but it’s still worth reading. But be sure to check back here! I’ll dig into those and other topics in a lot more depth.

Starcraft Plot Summary

For those of you who are not familiar with the Starcraft universe, but are interested in Starcraft 2, either because you’ve heard about the game or because you want to follow this blog but have no idea what I’m talking about when I make game references, here is an excellent summary of the plot from the original Starcraft:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQa8co522zc&w=640&h=385]

Could Cloaking Devices Work?

By now, you have probably seen the absolutely epic Starcraft 2: Ghosts of the Past trailer. If not, take a look at this, and pay particular attention to the depiction of Sarah Kerrigan’s cloaking device at about 11 seconds in:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_E83GfWM-A&w=574&h=346]

Cloaking is common in science fiction: Star Trek pioneered it with the Romulans, and other popular franchises like Star Wars and Predator and Halo have used it. And of course in Starcraft and Starcraft 2 both the Terrans and the Protoss have a whole variety of cloaked units. But could it really work? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is yes!

Obviously, this sort of technology would be extremely useful for the military, so they are funding research into technologies that could make it a reality. There are basically two ways that you could achieve “cloaking”. The first way would be to actually divert light around the cloaked object, so that it appears not to be there. Continue reading

What is Zerg creep, really?

Artwork from StarCraft, showing a creep-infested platform near the planet Char.

“What the hell is that? Looks like the ground there is alive.” – Jim Raynor

Creep: that purple, fibrous, living mat that extends from zerg “buildings”. Its ominous presence always tells you you are entering unsafe territory, unless of course you’re playing as zerg, in which case it says “welcome home”! But what exactly is it?

Well, let’s think about it scientifically. It is produced by zerg buildings and spreads across any available surface. According to the Starcraft Wiki (which I will use as an authoritative source for all the minutiae of StarCraft trivia that I don’t know) Creep has a cellular structure: it’s not just mucus. The Wiki also says that creep can absorb sustenance from the underlying terrain, that it can be spread by “spores” or excreted by several units, and it provides nutrients to zerg buildings. It is averse to high temperatures but can grow in space and over water.

So, does any real-world living thing match this description? Surely not, right? Wrong. Continue reading

How to Make a Space Marine

Hello and welcome to The Science of StarCraft! There’s tons of stuff in the StarCraft universe, both from the original games and the new one, that I can’t wait to talk about here, but I thought a good place to start would be the StarCraft 2 teaser cinematic.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbNoUOr3IdE&w=578&h=348]

Coool.

You’ve gotta love the space marines. They’re the first armed boots on the ground when you start a game, they’re in the thick of even the most epic battles, and they’re the last resort when your base is crumbling around you. So it’s great to learn more about how they work!

This video actually tells us a lot about the technology involved in building a marine, and about the level of Terran technology overall. Marines are about as basic as it comes for terran units, but there’s some pretty high-tech stuff going on here, so we can only imagine what goes into, say, a battlecruiser!

Let’s jump right in and start dissecting this video to see what we can learn. Continue reading

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