COSAM News Articles 2021 04 What do Godzilla, Ethan Hunt and Flash Gordon have in common?

What do Godzilla, Ethan Hunt and Flash Gordon have in common?

These legendary characters were part of an engaging class presentation in the Department of Physics.

Published: 04/27/2021

By: Maria Gebhardt

In Godzilla vs. Kong, how intense is Godzilla’s atomic breath? In Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, could Ethan Hunt really hold onto the side of an Airbus A400M as it takes off? In the 1936 Planet of Peril, is it reasonable to say that Emperor Ming could crash his planet Mongo into the Earth in a Flash Gordon serial film?  

Students in Ed Thomas Jr.’s undergraduate physics class are finding ways to solve those questions.

At the end of the spring semester, Thomas gave students a challenging opportunity to ask questions from their choice of scenes from famous flicks.

Trevor explaining Godzilla's atomic breath to the class.

“Treating Godzilla’s atomic breath as a laser, I calculated the intensity and energy that would be generated,” Trevor Hart explained to the class during his presentation.

The iconic blast of fluorescent blue light is Godzilla’s signature weapon. Hart determined that the total amount of energy from Godzilla’s atomic breath would be equivalent to all of the Earth’s petroleum and natural gas.

“Godzilla is 393-feet tall and his atomic breath creates a hole approximately 100 meters across,” Hart said. “The volume of the Earth that he sublimates is equivalent to a mountain in less than three minutes.”

After Godzilla, Ethan Hunt was the topic of the next presentation.

Grant Wilkinson discusses Ethan Hunt with the class.

“Is this reasonable for a person who does the impossible to hold on to an airplane as it taxies down the runway and takes off,” asked Grant Wilkinson.

In real life, Tom Cruise performed this dangerous stunt dangling from the plane with a safety harness attached.

“Ethan Hunt’s grip strength would not be able to continue to hold on while the plane’s door is being opened remotely,” he added. “The Impossible Mission Force agent would not have the capability to produce enough of a grip strength once the plane is traveling at its cruise speed, estimated 217 meters per second.”

Leo Burdett then discussed a cult classic.

Leo Burdett shares his calculations.

“We are doomed, Professor Gordon,” the famous line from this cult classic exclaims.

Can Flash Gordon save people between a collision between Earth and Mongo?

“The energy equivalent of 10-days of solar radiation from a sun-like star would need to be stored and then used to launch the planet Mongo out of its solar system to a collision course with Earth,” Burdett said. “My calculations show that they would not make it past the moon.”

The lively discussion between the students negated the feasibility of Flash Gordon’s plot.

“My students were able to discuss how we use physics principles to apply physics to situation seen in major motion pictures and classic films,” Thomas shared. “Through this interactive project, students refined their problem-solving skills and discussed viable approaches to investigate unique problems. While we’ve been having fun with these problems from movies and television, we use tools of estimation, integrated physics concepts from fluid mechanics to quantum mechanics, and collaborative problem solving, that can be applied to real-world situations and help prepare our students to answer the complex problems they would encounter in future research or work environments.”

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