Biophysicist Provides Elaborate Smackdown of George Lucas' Claim Surviving a Nuke in a Fridge is Possible

Biophysicist Provides Elaborate Smackdown of George Lucas' Claim Surviving a Nuke in a Fridge is Possible

Feb 24, 2012

Indy Toy Fridge

Yes, yes, we all know how silly the nuking the fridge scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is. You don't have to have multiple Ph.D.s under your lab coat to know body + fridge + mushroom cloud = dead body in a radiated fridge. However, if you do happen to have a few Ph.D.s under your lab coat, you can make proving that equation a whole lot more fun. And that's where biophysicist/biochemist David Shechner comes in.

Shechner holds a few degrees from MIT, but he's also a movie fan and writes for the site, and, well, he's pretty good at doing right by the site's title. In a four-page post titled Subjecting "Fridge Nuking" to Scientific Peer Review, Shechner explores every likely means of death that could result when one hides inside a fridge right before a nuclear bomb detonates and comes to the all-too-familiar conclusion that George Lucas is talking out of his ass when he says, as he did to the New York Times a month ago, "The odds of surviving that refrigerator — from a lot of scientists — are about 50-50."

The whole paper is worth a read (you can use Google Cache if the server is still dead from the Slashdot effect) not only as a supremely elaborate response to George Lucas' claim, but as a supremely thorough explanation of what exactly happens during an atomic explosion. Three highlights on the myriad of ways he'd die include:

From the mechanical section:

Lethal acceleration.  2,605,760 Newtons acting on a 170 kg mass would correspond to roughly 1560 G‘s worth of force, just shy of that required to ballistically launch a person into space.  Now, while the world-record acceleration survived by a human in the laboratory is 42 G’s, we cannot conclusively state that this incredible force would be lethal, since it’s never been directly tested. Moreover, the outcome is dependent on the direction Indy’s facing–relative to the oncoming wave–at the point of impact.  If he’s being pushed from his back or side, he’d almost certainly suffer massive bone damage, but might survive long enough to die of internal bleeding.  If he’s being pushed from below he would absolutely be killed by his body’s entire reservoir of blood being pulled into one of his extremae. From the clip it appears that he’s standing up at the point of impact, and so this is likely not a worry.  That is, if one considers having all of his ribs shattered into his chest cavity, and his circulatory system shedding multiple thromboses to “not be a worry.”

From the thermal section: 

Scorched by molten lead. Implicit in their implementation of this sequence is the authors’ belief that Indy’s survival is dependent on his encasement within the lead-lined refrigerator.  However, this device itself may present additional dangers beyond those directly related to the atomic blast.  To wit, the melting  temperature of lead is a paltry 327.46°C, potentially below the external temperature.  Now, liquifying lead requires enough energy to overcome its heat of fusion, and the time required to impart this energy. Observing the clip, we can only conclude that the air temperature exceeds lead’s melting temperature for a fraction of a second (and likely never reaches stainless steel’s melting temperature of >1500°C) though the ensuing nuclear furnace is probably warmer than a balmy Nevada afternoon.  Temperatures near ground zero of the Hiroshima blast, for example, incinerated essentially any object that could be burned; the ensuing fireball ignited and consumed a substantially larger area. Hence, while it seems unlikely that Indy would find himself drowning in a pool of molten lead, it’s highly likely that the integrity of the lead lining would become severely compromised.

From the aerodynamic section:

Suffocation–less-than-conventional. As an atomic explosion develops into its aforementioned fireball, it also appears to color the surrounding sky a tarry orange-brown, an event portrayed in the present work with, well, shocking accuracy. Perhaps the authors need be reminded that this tawny hue is the result of the bomb igniting the local atmosphere, burning nitrogen gas and consuming the local oxygen supply.  A mushroom cloud’s “stem,” is also the product of this phenomenon, as soot and debris are caught by the influx of air and carried into the rising plume.  Now, assuming that Indiana’s refrigerator has suffered sufficient structural damage as to allow some gas exchange with the outside, Indy might find himself under substantial negative atmospheric pressure, his oxygen being sucked from the ‘fridge’s interior and consumed by the nearby atomic furnace. Absurd as this might seem, it’s not without precedent, even for cases of non-atomic blasts. It’s rumored that during the firebombing of Dresden, nearby village barns and cottages were sucked into the fireball by the inrush of air.  Of course, this phenomenon also implies an additional fatal threat…

Now if only we could convince Shechner to tuck a botany degree under his belt as well, because we're down for a forensic dissection of the elasticity and maximum weight load of jungle vines.

Categories: Geek, Sci-Fi
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