The Hulk: Fact vs. Fiction

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While the mutations that the Hulk goes through are clearly in the comic book realm, doctors in real life are able to introduce genes into the body to repair damage on a sub-cellular level.

The catalyst that triggers the younger Banner's transformation may not be that far-fetched either. Studies have documented the amazing effects of the addition of a simple dose of adrenaline into the bloodstream of animals and humans.

Adrenaline boosts has been known to provide brief episodes of superhuman strength, like the time when a 123-pound (56-kilogram) Florida mom reportedly lifted a 3,000-pound (1,350-kilogram) vehicle off her trapped child.

Teaching Comic Book Science

A few books, such as The Science of Superheroes by Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg, test the science depicted in comic books. Some university professors, like James Kakalios of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, even believe the fantastic feats of superheroes are useful for teaching physics.

Kakalios teaches a physics course nicknamed, "Everything I know of science, I learnt from reading comic books," where final exam projects have posed such questions as: "If you, like the comic book hero the Flash, were to run around the world in 80 seconds, how much would you have to eat in order to have the calories?" (Answer: everything in The Joy of Cooking—26 times).

"Students are so busy enjoying their superhero ice cream sundae that they don't notice that I'm sneakily getting them to lower their guard and eat their spinach at the same time," Kakalios told an American Physical Society meeting in Austin, Texas, this spring.

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics

Then there are the self-proclaimed "techno-nerds," who dissect and criticize every technical or scientific detail in movies. One Web site, "Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics," even reviews movies based on their scientific merit.

Titanic, Pearl Harbor and the first Terminator movie all receive a "PGP" rating for "pretty good physics." Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Armageddon, and AI: Artificial Intelligence were slapped with "XP" ratings for containing "physics from an unknown universe." Tom Rogers, an engineer who runs the Web site, has not seen The Hulk, but based on the trailers and on-line reviews his impression is that its physics are "pure comic book silliness."

"In theory, a rapid metamorphosis process is possible, but not on the level depicted in the movie," he said.

Rogers believes that, short term, the Hulk's strength could increase by as much as ten times, and the perceived size could increase by, say, 25 percent.

This could be done by some combination of inhaling and changing to a more upright posture.

"However, it couldn't be done without decreasing density," he said. "The Hulk appears to be at least twice his normal human height when he first appears.

"This would mean an increase in volume of eight times and an increase in weight of eight times. Where would all this mass come from?"

Meanwhile, I-Yang Lee, the nuclear scientist at the Berkeley lab, saw the movie. He agrees that it's not realistic, but says he still liked it.

"At least it had a plot," he said. "Science fiction movies don't always have that."

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