“Hakuna Matata”

Everyone recognizes the unforgettable opening scene of The Lion King. The rising sun paired with the African singing and vivid pictures of different animals is truly unique and is loved by almost every person who has seen the movie. As strange as it may seem, The Lion King actually has some scientific meaning. It carries out a recurring theme that pertains to our everyday life. The first song called “The Circle of Life” points out the main theme of the movie. From an environmental and biological perspective, the circle of life is an important concept when it comes to dealing with Earth’s ecosystem. Throughout the movie, the theme is mentioned every now and again. Almost every main scene in the movie can be tied back to this theme of the circle of life.

To begin with, Mufasa, the king, further sets up the basis of this theme when he gives his son, Simba, a tour of their kingdom. He says to Simba, “We are all connected in the great circle of life.” He gives Simba the rundown of how their kingdom works. He tells Simba that even though they eat the antelope, they themselves will eventually die and become part of the grass and then the antelope will eat the grass. Therefore, they are all a part of the circle of life. Not one organism is meant to control all other organisms. The circle of life needs to be respected, and if it is disrupted there can be severe consequences, which is shown later in the movie.

This represents a healthy habitat and environement.

After Mufasa dies, Simba is exiled from the kingdom. He runs away and eventually passes out in a desert where Timon and Pumba take him under their wing and teach him the way of how they live. Simba only knows the life of a king, so this is a big change for him. He is introduced to a new way of living. He essentially goes from living at the top of the food chain to living at the bottom. Simba has to adapt to the way other creatures at the bottom of the food chain live. Without Timon and Pumba’s motto, “Hakuna Matata,” Simba may not have been able to live the way they taught him to live. In the end, he learns what the circle of life actually means, which helps shape him into becoming a noble king.

When Uncle Scar becomes king, the kingdom falls apart. Instead of being smart about the availability of food, he decides to hunt everything in the kingdom that can be hunted and eaten. His minions, the hyenas, help along with taking apart the kingdom by eating everything in the vicinity. Eventually, all of the food runs out. There are no animals left in the kingdom except for the lions, hyenas, and of course Zazu. The kingdom is vacant, dry, and corrupt. No animals are left to help the upkeep of the habitat they all live on. Eventually all of the animals had to die off or leave because they had nothing to eat.  As a consequence of no animals, the trees and grass die, because the balance of Earth’s ecosystem relies on every living organism. Each organism has to partake in their role for Earth’s ecosystem and habitat to be perfectly balanced.

The dessication of the Pride Land is done by Scar and the hyeans over consuming the resources.

This theme can relate to Earth’s current environmental problems. The difference is that in The Lion King, a dictator and his followers destroy the environment, whereas in today’s society, every human being is destroying the environment. Through our over consumption of Earth’s natural resources, the environment is paying heavily for it. We view the environment as something that needs to be conquered. We need to treat the environment like how Mufasa treats the antelope. They may eat the antelope, but since their bodies become part of the soil that enables the grass to grow, they are giving back to the antelope. Likewise, we may use the environment for things such as crops, but we should also be giving back to it. In the end, our “kingdom” can look like the one in this movie if something is not done about it.

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Breaking Bad: Ricin Beans

The AMC television show Breaking Bad revolves around the story of Walt White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Concerned about the financial situation of his family, consisting of his pregnant writer wife Skyler and son Walter Jr., who has severe cerebral palsy, Walt partners with one of his former students (Jesse) to begin cooking and selling methamphetamine. Tensions break out as his family discovers his illness and he tries to hide his illegal activities from his brother in law, Hank, who is an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The show features a lot of science and chemical jargon. But is it accurate? The answer is yes, according to script managers and associate producers.

When Jesse and Walt want to kill local drug boss Tuco after he had threatened them, Walt’s mind jumps to ricin, a poison which induces flu like symptoms and will not show up on an autopsy or toxin screen without carefully looking for it.

Purified ricin is a real poison, resulting in symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, hypotension, and seizures. The LD50 of the pure toxin is roughly 22 micrograms per kilogram — about 1.78 mg for an average adult. If the minimal dosage is ingested, it would be difficult to detect, though ricin concentrations may be found in blood, plasma, and urine.

The Southwest’s drug lord, Gustavo, spikes the drinks of his opponents in the Mexican drug cartels with ricin, and all keel over within three or four hours. This is unlikely, especially because oral exposure is far less toxic than inhalation, requiring about 20 milligrams per kilogram. In reality, an average toxic dose of ricin will cause death in three to five days.


A poisoned Don Eladio falls into his own swimming pool.

Walt and Jesse’s plan would involve chemical manipulation probably out of their ability. Walt procures about eight castor beans (the plant from which ricin is extracted). Though the former chemist knew how to synthesize the toxin, it requires specialized equipment that neither man had access to in Season 1.

Walt violently cautions Jesse against even directly touching only the beans, which was a bit of an overreaction – one would have to eat and thoroughly chew all eight castor beans to be exposed to the necessary dosage of ricin.

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I am Legend ctd.: Power and the Virus


Any source of power, including hydroelectric and nuclear, would have ceased long before the three-year timeline of I Am Legend. So, Neville makes do using three small gasoline-powered generators. They allow him to power his lights, TV, stereo and laboratory during the day and twilight hours and, have done so for over 1000 days. “Three small generators can power a house and everything in it,” says PM’s senior home editor Roy Berendsohn. “If these are very fuel efficient generators, and he’s being conservative with their use, he’ll use maybe 5 to 9 gallons of gasoline a day.” That translates to a lot of fuel–5000 to 9000 gallons over 1000 days. Neville does have access to the below-ground tanks of the city’s gas stations, which, according to Berendsohn, could have between 3000 to 10,000 gallons each. Considering that New York has about 100 gas stations, Neville would have enough fuel to last him a long time.

Still, Berendsohn says, “chances are he’d have a difficult time with the generators as the years roll slowly by. The gas would not be fresh after nearly three years in the ground, and the generators would need service, such as spark plugs and so forth.” So, this part of the tale is plausible, if not entirely likely, Berendsohn says.


So the state of the city is relatively accurate, what about the virus and what it does?

In the movie they manipulated the measles vaccine into a retrovirus and then applied it to patients in a clinical trial. At first it cured cancer. Then, the patients begin to get sick. Most of them bleed out, but those who don’t become hairless, transparent, vampire-like mutants who are allergic to sunlight and crave blood. They spread the disease by biting others. When the virus mutates and goes airborne, it spreads rapidly, killing everyone on Earth except for those who are immune–and slowly, even they are picked off by the vampires, until only one man is left. Though the film’s press release claims “the possibility of a retrovirus spreading out of control is no longer just the fodder for science fiction stories,” Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, one of the world’s top virologists says the scenario presented in the movie doesn’t seem plausible at all. Viruses don’t just mutate and become airborne. They usually fall into a category like vector borne, respiratory, or STD. They don’t just change from tick-borne to pneumonic. Equally bizarre according to Lipkin is Neville’s immunity. “There are people who are resistant to retroviruses because they have mutations in receptors, but that’s a mutation that people have from the get-go,” he explains. “If someone had been exposed to a related virus and was immune to it, then they would carry that immunity, and that would be something that would occur over the course of their lifespan. But how this guy would have come into contact with such a virus is unclear, and certainly wouldn’t be explained in that way.” Lipkin also debunks the notion of him being able to create a cure from his own blood. It isn’t really possible for Neville to take a small amount of his blood and it make a difference in these people’s mutation. There are antibodies that could be protective, but they wouldn’t last forever. Also, Neville would have had to be infected to even develop the antibodies. Lipkin also thinks that the infected are quite bizarre as well. Just because you are infected with a virus you won’t become a vampire. They wouldn’t cause such a drastic change.


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I am Legend: Manhattan After Us


After watching Contagion in class the other day, I thought about the movie I Am Legend with Will Smith. It’s a similar sort of movie, but in this case the virus did actually cause an apocalypse instead of just the possibility. This movie depicts Smith as the sole survivor of a man-made plague, who happens to be a virologist. He is also the only one who is immune to the virus. The people who caught the virus either died or became creepy vampire-like mutants. He tries to create a cure using his own virus immune blood while the infected are starting to hunt him and set traps for him. Popular Mechanics magazine consulted with teams of scientists to determine what could happen and what certainly wouldn’t in a situation like this, a post-apocalyptic world three years after the destruction of the human population.

The first thing they discussed was the urban jungle being turned into an actual jungle with plants popping up through cracks in the sidewalk and a waist-high field of grass in Time Square. So what would really happen without us? According to Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, “You’d certainly have a lot of plants growing up through cracks in the sidewalk,” Weisman says. “After three years, you might see some weeds that have made it waist-high in abandoned lots up in the Bronx, but if they’re showing a waist-high field of grass in Times Square, that’s a bit of a stretch.” After three years, as is the time line of the movie, the gutters would be clogged with leaves. This would be a breeding ground for shrubs and weeds and according to Weisman the sewers would also become clogged and within just two days the subway systems would flood. Without fireman the lightning strikes and gas line explosions would cause fires, leaving some buildings charred. The buildings still standing which should be a good majority of them would be a lot greener too due to the moss and lichens growing on them because of the lack of fumes in the city,unlike the normal brick buildings in the movie. Many of buildings would also have missing facing because without heat the pipes would burst causing water damage and any exposed metal would rust.

One accuracy though is the influx of animals back into Manhattan. Without people and automobiles and the like to scare them off certainly deer and other animals would creep back into the city, especially as plants started to grow in the city. Two types of animals you wouldn’t see in a post-apocalyptic metropolis, though, are roaches and rats, which both depend on humans to survive and are extremely common in a modern metropolis. “Roaches aren’t going to do real well if there aren’t any heated buildings,” Weisman says, and rats will starve without trash to gorge themselves on.


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Murder 101: Bases, not acids

Walt and Jesse view the remains of their victim after the hydrofluoric acid eats through the house’s piping.

The AMC television show Breaking Bad revolves around the story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Concerned about the financial situation of his family, consisting of his pregnant writer wife Skyler and son Walter Jr., who has severe cerebral palsy, Walt partners with one of his former students (Jesse) to begin cooking and selling methamphetamine. Tensions break out as his family discovers his illness and he tries to hide his illegal activities from his brother in law, Hank, who is an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The show features a lot of science and chemical jargon. But is it accurate? The answer is yes, according to script managers and associate producers.

Throughout the show’s five season run, Walt and Jesse use large quantities of hydrofluoric acid to dissolve the corpses of murder victims, whether from their own deeds or the acts of their drug lord boss, Gustavo. The acid, not usually considered strong because it does not completely dissociate in water, is shown not to react with polyethylene plastic. Jesse, in charge of disposing of the body of his former partner in crime in the first season, disregards Walt’s instructions to buy a plastic bin, instead using the bathtub in his home. After everything had gone down the drain and Jesse thought he was in the clear, his second floor collapsed because the acid had corroded the pipes, resulting in blood and organs falling to the floor.

In later seasons, bodies are placed in plastic bins and appear to have absolutely no remnants whatsoever.

Walt oversees the disposal of Gus’ right-hand man via hydrofluoric acid.

Though it undeniably made for good television, I was left with a burning question: would hydrofluoric acid really completely dissolve a body?

Probably not, say most of the sources I referenced.

The acid is corrosive and will eat through most metals – small amounts are used to etch metals – but it is known as the weakest of all the halide acids. The compound is typically identified as a contact poison rather than a corrosive; usually, human exposures to hydrofluoric acid results in cardiac arrest and hypocalcemia as the molecules pass into the bloodstream and react strongly with local calcium and magnesium ions. Direct contact with large amounts of highly concentrated acid will result in severe burns, but immediate medical attention (such as calcium infusion) would likely lead to a full recovery.

Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine, About.com chemist, was surprised by Walt’s choice of body disposal, pointing out that the most well known method of dissolving flesh is a lye and water mixture. Animals, like deceased livestock and road kill, are sometimes disposed of in this manner, leaving only a brown sludge and brittle bones. Not to mention, lye can be much more easily obtained than hydrofluoric acid.

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The Walking Dead- Could we really become that?

“The Walking Dead” has recently become one of the most popular television series out there. It is the story of Rick Grimes, a sheriff’s deputy, who wakes up from a coma to find a post-apocalyptic world over run with zombies or “walkers,” as they are referred to in the show. This show much like the movie “Zombieland,” revolves around a group of survivors trying to stay alive and find others who aren’t infected. In both the movie and the show, the zombies seem to be created through a virus like infection that is extremely widespread and devastating. According to a Discovery Channel program, the actuality of something like this actually happening is very unlikely. Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunization at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, John’s Hopkins University, Andrew Pekosz describes the type of virus that would be able to cause a “zombie apocalypse.” The virus would be one that infects a person, but does not display symptoms for weeks, but is still able to be transmitted from person to person. In a scenario like this, by the time anyone actually knew they were sick from virus; there would be hundreds if not thousands infected. A virus that acted in this manner would make it extremely difficult to enact any public health measures. It would be hard to act preventatively because many people would be infected long before they knew there was even a virus spreading and it would be impossible to head off the virus with vaccines because so many would be infected before they even knew the virus existed. According to Pekosz though this kind of scenario may be more than a virus can handle. Typically a virus causes an illness as soon as it enters the host, so to ask it to remain dormant, symptomless, while still spreading is almost impossible. He says that there could be a possible link between causing a disease and spreading the virus, much like with the flu. It may have to be passed through coughing or sneezing, which are symptoms that would alert the person of an illness. When asked if it was possible for such a virus to infect the whole population, he responds with a no. It would be very hard for one single virus to infect an entire population. Some people would simply not be exposed to the virus. If they live in a separated area with little to no contact with other people, they may not ever come in contact with the virus. Still others will build an immunity from a small does and just not react to it, but will be immune to a later infection. Others will have a natural immunity, like Matt Damon’s character in “Contagion.” Will all of this together, a good percent of this population would be not be affected by the population and most likely a virus that would cause a zombie apocalypse isn’t even likely. So for now, even though zombie shows and movies seem to be catching society’s interest, there isn’t really a way for something like the “Walking Dead” to occur.Image

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An Alarmingly Efficient Virus

The movie, Contagion, offers some infectious thrill to a high-paced race against time to save the world from a deadly virus. When a woman travels to Hong Kong on business, she contracts an illness that starts as a cough, but ends up stealing her life. Though it does not affect her husband at all, their son also contracts this strange flu, and he dies, as well. The symptoms involve coughing at the beginning, which progresses into more severe hacking; there is profuse sweating and dizziness that increases in intensity until the afflicted hits the ground, possibly seizing, and dies. The film portrays the spread of this unknown illness from person to person, until it grows to a city, state, and international level.
This all goes down during the course of 135 days, less than half a year, and the CDC is all the while working to save the human population being rapidly stricken by this contagion. Because the film incorporated the actual scientific organization that reacts to a situation like the one portrayed here, it was able to discuss the real science behind illness during portions of scientists’ discourse. The information given at these intervals was fairly factual, and throughout the plot progression, there are practical developments that bring up several good points about the way the world, scientifically and societally, works today.
It is among the earlier scenes that a lot of the virology was communicated. The scientists talked about fomites, which are inanimate objects that can serve as transmitters of infectious agents. They even made us in the class viewing the movie self-aware and uncomfortable with their talk of how easily microorganisms can be transmitted by touching various typical objects. They point out the number of times the average person touches their face each day, which is how the microorganism with which one comes into contact find most easily get into our systems- at which point every one of us in the class took our hands away from our faces. The number was near 5.5 thousand times per day, between two-four times a minute.
While this fact was sound, though startling, the information on the spreading rate for the disease in Contagion did not maintain the same degree of accuracy. The film brought up the concept of R-naught or “R0,” which indicates the number of people to whom each inflicted will likely pass on the disease during the contagious period. They stated in the movie that the virus had an r-nought of 2, which means two more people become sick for every one infected with the virus. The man who said this then went on to give off a series of numbers that did not add up sensibly. He was trying to demonstrate the level of impact this disease would have, but instead of adding up the numbers by doubling each sum, he was squaring it. He exponentiated the amount of people infected with the virus, skipping the steps between to blow it up to a ridiculous degree, rather than expressing the illness’ severe but more rational danger.
Despite this confusion, the movie brought up some credible ideas about the developments that accompany an epidemic. The filmmakers portrayed a practical spread of disease, and an interesting and rather plausible relief response to such an epidemic. They showed how the Internet could become a major hindrance as a mode of expression for those who are anti-science by depicting a blogger gaining credibility in the eyes of the public, only to dissuade them from taking their best chance by getting vaccinated, and for his own personal profit. The other realistic dilemmas to responding in such a crisis had presence in the plot, such as the deliberation on who should be first vaccinated and how people would react to a sudden crisis that is dropping bodies everywhere and throwing societal norms and etiquettes out the window. I thoroughly appreciated the deep thought that went into producing the varied and complex effects of such a wholly, globally impactful phenomenon as an epidemic occurring today, despite it being something that has never rocked the modern world. Although the disease progressed with a somewhat unlikely rapidity, and the discussion about it made it seem larger than life as well, the other factors of the film made up for this scientific lapse that is to be expected in most any movie.

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