Physics of the Buffyverse

Physics of the Buffyverse
By Jennifer Ouellette
Illustrated by Paul Dlugokencky

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In the tradition of Lawrence Krauss's bestselling The Physics of Star Trek, The Physics of the Buffyverse uses the characters, concepts and plot lines of two popular television series -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its successful spinoff, Angel -- to illustrate a wide range of fundamental concepts in the physical sciences: everything from sound, electricity, materials science, and thermodynamics, to concepts of time (and time travel), wormholes, black holes, and string theory.

The Buffyverse is undeniably a bizarre place, where magic, vampires, and demons are real, and mystical convergences and other-worldly phenomena are almost everyday occurrences. On the surface, this surreal fictional universe would appear to have very little to do with the world of science. But science is everywhere in the Buffyverse. Many of the monsters' traits are drawn from real-world biology, and chemistry is plainly evident in the concoction of witches' brews and potions -- often performed in the high school chemistry lab, using standard chemical ingredients.

Physics is no exception. Writers for both series have openly drawn on specific concepts in quantum mechanics, relativity, and string theory to develop innovative plots for episodes. A high school girl becomes invisible after months of nobody noticing her -- a clever twist on the quantum notion that observation determines the outcome of a subatomic-scale experiment. There are teleporting demons, temporal folds, time loops, and dimensional portals similar in concept to the hypothetical wormholes proposed by real-world physicists. And one critical scene in an Angel episode takes place at a scientific symposium on string theory.

In short, the Buffyverse offers a unique lens through which to view the precepts of science with fresh eyes. Who says learning about physics can't be fun? For instance:

  • What's the best kind of wood to use for a stake, especially against a Turok-han?
  • How much energy would you need to create enough extra mass to turn Mayor Wilkins into a giant snake?
  • Why does Buffy's prolonged scream cause the heads of the Gentlemen to explode in the Emmy-nominated episode "Hush"?
  • Is Miss Kitty Fantastico alive, dead, or both at the same time after that unfortunate crossbow accident?

The Physics of the Buffyverse sheds light on these and many other aspects of Joss Whedon's weirdly wonderful fictional world. Through metaphor, analogy, and specific examples drawn from both series, Jennifer Ouellette takes the reader on an entertaining, yet edifying journey from the most basic concepts of physics to the fringes of its most exotic theories. It's all rendered in clear, lively, accessible prose -- liberally peppered with classic Buffy-speak quotations -- and accompanied by whimsically clever illustrations. You'll never look at physics or the Buffyverse in quite the same way again.