Spider-Man and the Decay Rate Algorithm

Spider-Man and the Decay Rate Algorithm

Articles, Blog , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 45 Comments

Hi. I’m Jim Kakalios, physics
professor at the University of Minnesota, and one of
the science consultants for the new Sony film
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. [MUSIC] Thanks to the National
Academy of Science’s Science and Entertainment Exchange
program, Hollywood calls on scientists like me to help
them create a believable, fake reality. Whether it’s the quantum physics
behind WATCHMEN’s Dr. Manhattan or Tony Stark’s lab in
IRON MAN, Hollywood know that any time the audience is
questioning what they are seeing on screen, is a moment when
they aren’t paying attention to the story. At the University of
Minnesota, I teach a class on superhero science, which led to my writing a popular
science book, the Physics of Superheroes. For THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN,
I consulted on the physics of wall crawling and the tensile
strength of spider’s webbing. But I know what you’re really
wondering about the movie… is there any math? The filmmaker’s asked me to
create an equation relating to cell regeneration
and human mortality, called the “Decay
Rate Algorithm”. Naturally, I thought of
the Gompertz equation. Have you ever wondered why no
one lives to be 350 years old – and few make it past 115? You might think that if you
make it to say 25 years old that you would have
a constant chance of dying in any given year. But just as some people can
play the lottery repeatedly and not win, out of
billions of people on the planet there would be
some who are very, very old. Why doesn’t this happen? Think of it as a “death lottery”
where no one really wants to win, but we all
do eventually. Unlike a real lottery,
the longer you live, the greater your chances
of eventually “winning.” My colleague at Minnesota, Professor Boris Shklovskii
– Hi, Boris – Hi, Jim. Figured out why this is so in a
physics paper he published a few years ago. Imagine defective cells
in your body as criminals, and your immune cells
as cops on the beat. When you are young, it is as
if there are a lot of cops on the street, and
it’s very difficult for the defective
cells to reproduce and form a lethal population. As we age, it is as if a series
of budget cuts reduce the number of patrolmen, and
eventually crime wins out. This for me is the
beauty of science. Patterns await discovery
in nature. In the laboratory,
in telescopes, even in actuarial tables.

45 thoughts on “Spider-Man and the Decay Rate Algorithm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *