Batman Fusion Redemption

Posted by Rezwan Razani on Jul 26, 2012 at 05:44 AM
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The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) recklessly manhandles fusion’s reputation.  Bring it, Batman!  What a great opportunity to engage the film community to be fusion heroes.  Save the fusion program (and the world!) at the same time.

The Inciting Incident

On a tip that The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) features an implausibly terrifying fusion plot device, I attended the midnight screening at Princeton’s Garden Theater.  What a festive occasion.  What an entertaining movie! 

And, as advertised, the science was…not.  It looks like an RP from the Movie Physics Rating System.  Perhaps we could get them an XP or NR.  We’ll have to wait for the final determination.

“So what?” you say.  “It’s a movie.”  True. True. Then again, not to panic anyone, but…

The Fusion Program is at Stake!!!

The US fusion program is in grave danger.  It needs champions.  Massive budget cuts threaten to shut down MIT’s fusion program and a big chunk of Princeton Plasma Physics Labs (PPPL).  Many promising small scale experiments have already been eliminated.

The recent Batman fusion-trashing plot has inspired us to post this “Batman Fusion Redemption” plan.  

Don’t feel limited by the word “Batman.” The plan includes 5 ways the broader entertainment community can get Pro-Fusion.  And remember, it’s not all Sci Fi.  Many genres apply.  See the thriller potential in the weapons v. energy plot.

Entertainment veterans show us some love!  Pitch in to jump start fusion philanthropy, fusion appreciation, fusion demand.  Weave fusion into your art as a matter of course.  You are in a perfect position to issue the call to action for the fusion quest; a call which humanity seems to be running from right now.  Indeed, consider yourself CALLED TO ACTION to issue that call. 

Don’t delay.  Mankind is in danger of succumbing to Fermi’s Paradox, described by Geoffrey Miller:

I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good.

Don’t let us lose the cosmic plot!  We need a conscious film community to proactively urge on the quest for fusion and the like.

There is so much you can do.  To start with, TDKR provides a brilliant opening to kick the fusion conversation into gear.  While it can’t turn back time and won’t save lives today (Aurora. You are in our hearts and minds.) in the long run, if the fusion program succeeds, it will have a colossal positive impact on life, prosperity and sustainability on this planet.  Let’s get to it!

Note that the business community is also one that “traffics in trifles.”  See Crowdfunding can Incentivize Inventions that Benefit Society.

Batman (TDKR) Fusion Flubs

First, let’s foil the bomb plot with a review of fusion science.  The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) features a wealth of insultingly stupid movie physics (the technical term).  Apparently, to weaponize a fusion reactor (which is the size of a large beach ball!!), you remove its “core.”  This will destabilize it.  Over a period of 5 months, the device will “decay” and then blow up in a glorious thermonuclear mushroom cloud.  Also, the reactor needs to be sited under a river so that if anything goes wrong, it can be flooded, apparently because of “melt down” danger.  What’s wrong with this picture? 

  • Decay?  Radioactive decay generally turns a weapon into a dud.
  • Fusion doesn’t melt down.  TDKR confuses fission and fusion.  Fission (FIZZ) is the one that breaks up big radioactive uranium nuclei, that has the chain reactions that can get out of control and lead to a “melt down” (hence, “control rods” and big cooling towers).  Fusion (FUSE) is different. You have to work REALLY hard to get light nuclei (like Hydrogen) to fuse.  And to sustain fusion?  With any fusion device conceived, if you break the circuit anywhere, that would shut it off.  If it’s any consolation, Spider Man II was also very confused on this point.
  • You can’t weaponize a fusion energy device. FUSION IS DIFFICULT.  This is why we don’t have commercial fusion energy yet.  If a fusion energy device was something that could easily get out of control and blow up, scientists would have been able to exploit it as an energy source a lot sooner!  Even theoretically, a fusion energy device is not weaponizable.
  • Making a Fusion Bomb is REALLY, REALLY DIFFICULT: The only way to weaponize fusion fuel (the fuel, mind you - you can forget the energy device) is to wrap it in an atomic (FISSION) bomb.  And this must be done in an incredibly sophisticated way.  The atomic bomb has to explode perfectly around the fusion fuel to make it fuse.  Fusion fuel would really rather not fuse.  It repels itself.  Which is why, once again, it is taking some time to exploit as an energy source.
  • Some fusion energy research is funded by NNSA and has a role in weapons “stockpile stewardship” – but NOT because it makes bombs.  It just helps scientists look inside existing bombs.  The fusion researchers have figured out how to make beams to penetrate a warhead and see if it is still radioactively potent enough to blow, or if it has decayed (see note on “decay” above).  This technology is useful if you are a big country like the USA with tens of thousands of warheads and want to know if they still work without conducting weapons tests.  If you’re a terrorist, you probably don’t have many weapons, and there’s no point in testing them.  You can threaten people just as easily with a dud - and then take your shot and hope for the worst.  Fusion is not useful for terrorists. 

The World Needs Fusion, Fusion Needs You

Stop using fear of explosions as an excuse to avoid the work of developing fusion. There’s real glory and agony in this challenge.  The holy grail of energy. 

Fusion is one of mankind’s most awesome technical challenges.  A test of our capability.  Fusion is what lights up the sun and stars.  More than the “theft of fire from the gods,” Fusion is the theft of plasmas hotter than stars.  “Theft of fire” is epic.  “Theft of plasma” is cosmic.  Success is not guaranteed.  Uncertainty abounds.  But the enormity of the challenge is worth it.  Fusion energy has a colossal upside.  If we can reign it in and make it cost effective, we will have a baseload of abundant energy for billions of years, with no greenhouse gases.  And in case a sustainable, prosperous world isn’t enough and you want to visit other worlds, fusion also supplies ionic propulsion for much faster space ships.  Fission – eat our ionic (not radioactive) exhaust.

Despite the upside, fusion doesn’t resonate with most people.  As scientists toil in the lab and struggle with budget cuts, fusion outreach is limited to earnest educational materials.  Meanwhile, the entertainment community glamorizes “weaponizable fusion” or indulges in rapid montage fusion solution fantasies (go Tony Stark!) That’s all fine, but it’s time to take the gloves off.  Leverage narrative and celebrity on behalf of fusion and give our scientists a boost!

Redemption I:  4 Things TDKR Creators Can Do for Fusion

The Dark Knight Rises is (whoops) circulating a defamatory fusion message.  No problem!  This is the perfect setup for redemption.  Here’s how to leverage that fusion faux pas into pro fusion awareness and fervor:

  1. Batman Fusion Public Service Announcement: Make a PSA using clips from TDKR and pro fusion soundbites from the film’s stars, cut with interviews of fusion physicists and shots of actual fusion devices, and ideally narrated by Morgan Freeman (Through the Wormhole! Too perfect!).  Clear up the fusion misconceptions.  Distinguish between weapons and energy.  “Here’s how we portrayed fusion, here’s how it actually is.”  This PSA can be circulated now, and included in the DVD extras when the DVD is released. 
  2. Celebrity visits of fusion labs. There will be more people who see the movie and get the wrong message, than who see the PSA and get the right one.  Additional countermeasures are required.  And so we invite the actors from the film to visit the MIT or PPPL fusion labs, or any other fusion lab nearby (tell us where you are and we’ll identify the nearest facility.  Are you shooting a film in New Mexico?  Make sure to stop at Los Alamos!)  Visit major labs, visit minor labs. Visit one.  Visit many.  Collect them all!  Take pictures, tweet, blog, podcast about it.  Mention it in interviews.  Connect with fusion, and help the rest of us connect.  And make sure to encourage your fan base to contact their representatives in support of the fusion program. 
  3. Join us on a Podcast: We plan to set up “fusion radio” and it would be great to have the occasional fusion-film related personality in the lineup.
  4. Corporate Donation: Donate a portion of the film & DVD proceeds to fusion outreach organizations and fusion experiments (like us!).  Add fusion organizations to the list of charities that WB gives matching corporate donations to.  Note, we are developing a “Fusion Organization Tracker” aka “Fusion Philanthropy App” to help identify such organizations and clarify how your donations would help.  Are you in the New Jersey area?  Join our Meetups to help develop the app.

Redemption II:  5 Things All Fusion Film Creators Can Do

The Dark Knight Rises isn’t the only film to portray (and mis-portray) fusion.  There are many films with a strong fusion element, including, but not limited to Avengers, Iron Man, Serenity (a Firefly runs on fusion), Back to the Future, the Moon (he’s mining He3 for fusion), Spider-man II, etc.  Similar actions can be taken by the creators of these films.

  • Add a PSA to your DVD:  Looking for an excuse to re-release your DVDs?  The addition of a fusion PSA and publicity over donating a portion of the proceeds to fusion research would work well for all! 
  • Celebrity Visits to Labs & on Podcasts:  Tony Stark, Captain Mal & Kaylee, Marty McFly & Doc Brown, come on down!  Shia LeBeouf (fictitious fusion investor in “Wall Street” whose fictitious name I forget) come on down!  Are you a member of the Star Wars Universe, Star Trek Universe, Firefly Universe? Come on down.  We’d be delighted to have the stars, writers, directors, producers of iconic fusion themed films (and random fusion curious celebs) visit fusion labs.  Not all at once.  A steady stream over time.  Fusion may take a while, so pace yourselves : ).  Ideally, we’d coordinate visits with the need of a lab for funding or the attention of a specific representative on the hill.  We could develop an app for this.  Fusion Philanthropy App:  Celebrity Lab Visit Edition: alerts you when you come near a lab in need of a strategic boost.  Once you visit, you know the drill.  Photo opp, tweet, encourage your fan base to write letters to Congress. 
  • Studios, Make Clips Available for Mashups:  We want to encourage the public to express their creativity on behalf of fusion.  It would be great if studios and filmmakers donated clips (“Igor!  Pull the switch!”) from fusion themed movies for use by the public in mashups.  These could be downloadable from a central place, with links for people to purchase the related films.  This is a copyright issue.  Perhaps there could be a unique fusion creative commons license for the use of such clips exclusively in PSAs made by the public to promote fusion.  (CC BY NC FPSA - Creative commons, attribution, noncommercial, fusion psa?)
  • Retrospective Fusion Film Festival: Sponsor a festival!  We would like to gather the best fusion films to date and confer awards. Physicist’s choice, people’s choice, critics choice awards; best fusion in film wins the Golden Hohlram; most insultingly stupid fusion in film gets the “thermocuclear” award (from “The Fourth Bear”); Best fusion villain (Doc Ock v. Bane v…); Best fusion hero; Best fusion mechanic (Kaylee from Firefly!);  Fusion film ratings become standardized.  [Note: We could also have a “best fusion in film” award as a regular part of the Environmental Media Awards.] 
  • Benefit Gala: Sponsor a Gala! A Gala would bring people together to celebrate fusion research and mankind’s epic, ongoing fusion quest.  We would invite friends of fusion, scientists, policy makers, investors, celebrities, and more!  The event would encourage people to pledge to the fusion quest, to vote for the fusion budget, to invest in fusion and to leverage their creativity for fusion.  We’d also be raising money for completion of the fusion experiment tracker and other key fusion educational projects and apps.

This brings us up to date with past films. 

On to the Future:  Fusion Story Brainstorm

PSA’s, celebrity lab visits, gala hopping: these are all great ways to support fusion by cashing in on celebrity.  That’s handy but the real value of folks in the entertainment industry is your creativity and art, your gift of storytelling. 

The Great American (Global!) Fusion Story has yet to be told.  This is because it is still being lived, and the specifics, and even the outcome, are uncertain.  A cliffhanger, a mystery, a triumph or tragedy, redemption or failure.  Whatever it is, it’s real.  And we are all characters in it, all part of this dynamic, interactive reality called “The Quest for Fusion.” 

And so we invite story tellers to work their magic.  Some notes to get you started.

Elements of the Fusion Story

  • OMG, we’re on a REAL QUEST!  I don’t think everyone got the call to action.
  • If the unfolding fusion reality is a movie, what beat are we on?  “Debate” probably.
  • Genres: Quest, of course, but also… 
  • Themes:  Redemption, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Overcoming…
  • Characters:  Heroes, Threshhold Guardian, Scientist v. Financial Analyst…


To incentivize the story brainstorm, we would like to try (and require sponsorship for):

  • Fusion screenplay contests.
  • Fusion short film contests.


For maxiumum synergy, the fusion story campaign can be integrated with:

What if You Don’t Do Anything?

In, “Why Haven’t We Met Aliens” Geoffrey Miller talks about Fermi’s Paradox and the idea that as civilizations evolve, they get distracted by entertainment and stop achieving:

Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote real biological fitness, but it’s even better at delivering fake fitness—subjective cues of survival and reproduction without the real-world effects…Actually colonizing the galaxy would be so much harder than pretending to have done it when filming Star Wars or Serenity. The business of humanity has become entertainment, and entertainment is the business of feeding fake fitness cues to our brains.

Actually investing in and developing fusion is much harder than watching an Iron Man montage.  We could let the fusion program die and just watch movies about fake fusion.  Or, the film community could step up to spur us on to real fusion.  It’s your choice.

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