Remember GoldenEye? Sometimes, physics can leave you a little shaken, but not stirred

  • HT Education Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2015 12:35 IST

When it was released in 1995, GoldenEye had to impress James Bond fans with some spectacular action since it marked the British secret agent’s return to the silver screen after six years – and it did not disappoint. Fans watched in openmouthed admiration as Pierce Brosnan, playing Bond, escaped from a Soviet chemical weapons facility, chased an aircraft, followed it as it toppled over a cliff and actually caught up with it while falling!

Two stunts were combined to make the scene look realistic: one stunt performer rode a motorcycle to the edge of the cliff and jumped and another one dived after the plane. Those who think such acts cannot be emulated have to update their knowledge of physics and understand that it’s not actually impossible. At least that’s what Professor Dr Metin Tolan will tell you. The prorector (for research and teaching) for TU Dortmund University, Germany, has a PhD degree in experimental physics. He likes to, “for fun,” give lectures on subjects that link physics to James Bond movies. You’ll find laws of physics everywhere if you look close enough, he says.

Managing a “GoldenEye free fall” depends on air resistance (one of the laws of physics states that all objects — regardless of their mass — free fall with the same acceleration). The size of the particles in his Vodka-Martini also indicates why Bond wants his preferred drink “shaken and not stirred.” Actually, there are many such things which makes physics not all that difficult to understand.

A man whose main areas of interest are the use of X-rays to study the interface behaviour of polymers, biomaterials, liquids and other “soft materials,” Professor Tolan has watched “every single James Bond movie more than 20 times.” Also a Star Trek fan, his love affair with physics started when he, as a child, started asking his mother why everyone believed that the earth was orbiting the sun while it looked as if exactly the opposite were true. “My mother did not know the answer but she told me that physicists know such things. From that moment the love affair started and will last forever,” he says. It’s easy to make people develop an interest in science says this recipient of the Communicator’s Award 2013 conferred by the German Research Foundation, DFG. It is bestowed on researchers who have communicated their scientific findings to a wide general audience and is aimed at promoting dialogues between the scientific community and the public. “In Germany, more and more scientists try to explain science to the general public. In Dortmund, for instance, we have a series called ‘Saturday Morning Physics’ where approximately 500 to 800 people show up on Saturday mornings to listen to talks of physics professors who explain their topics in simple words. Their response shows me that some of them have fallen in love with physics afterwards,” adds Tolan.

(Professor Tolan will deliver a lecture, ‘Shaken not Stirred – James Bond in the Focus of Physics’ on April 1 at 6 pm at The German House, Chanakyapuri)

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