RNZ Nights' Sci Fi / Sci Fact » The MacDiarmid Institute
RNZ Nights' Sci Fi / Sci Fact

News & events

RNZ Nights' Sci Fi / Sci Fact

6 December, 2021

Can you build an Iron Man suit? Make Mithril in Middle Earth? Create Wolverine’s skeleton? Sci Fi / Sci Fact is a new series on RNZ Nights where a MacDiarmid Institute researcher takes an idea from pop culture to see how it stands up to scientific scrutiny. A spinoff of the popular science Materials: Fact or Fiction segment from RNZ’s Nights with Brian Crump.

Every episode takes an idea from pop culture to see how it stands up to scientific scrutiny, with a different guest scientist for every episode. The podcast series features the best segments from the past two years, 

Nights host Bryan Crump says that one of the great things about Sci Fi/Sci Fact is the link between science and the imagination, between the empirical and the hypothetical..

Listen in to hear some of New Zealand's brightest scientific minds discuss the merits of pop culture plot-drivers.

Sci Fi/Sci Fact is available on Fridays from 10 December at rnz.co.nz/scifi, Spotify, Apple, iHeartRadio and wherever you get your podcasts. Listen to the trailer. New episodes of the radio segment and podcast will return in late January.

739a79e0 93d5 22ed fe71 1dc0b83aa0a5

Sci Fi/Sci Fact - Marvel: Ironman's Suit

Tony Stark first put on the Iron Man suit in 1968 and it's changed a lot over the years. While it has always enabled Stark to fly and wear an arsenal, more recently the suit has been able to repair itself.

Principal Investigator, Catherine Whitby, an Associate Professor  in Chemistry at Massey University, said self-repairing materials are kind of the "holy grail" for scientists.

And she said nature is a key inspiration.

"It's kind of like a shell that’s got this incredible strength and an ability to protect Tony from all sorts of situations," said Dr Whitby, "And we’re actually starting to try and imitate these kinds of shells that already form in nature.”

“In some cases, some animals can repair their shells. In other cases, an animal sometimes has to shed it and grow a new one." 

Scientists are now working making materials that might start to approach self-repairing. 

“It’s pretty early days on the self-repairing but we’re already having a lot of success on mimicking bio-mineralisation in the lab,” Dr Whitby said.MFF social media bottom of webpage 23

January 7, 2022

Sci Fi/Sci Fact - Santa: How does he do it?

On December 24, every year, Santa Claus piles his sleigh up with presents, he hitches Rudolph and his other reindeer up and heads off to deliver those gifts to every child in the world. How?

JJ Eldridge, Associate Professor in Physics at the University of Auckland said if she was Santa, she would start with cloaking technology, which would explain why no one ever sees Santa dropping off the presents, and there is already a bit of this tech in development.

The ability to cover the whole world in one night gets trickier, but JJ said it is not outside the realms of possibility.

"One of the most difficult things about physics is you have to kind of throw out everything you understand from your own eyes and ears about how the world works," she said, "Because when we go down to the very small level, the quantum mechanics level, things get a bit strange."MFF social media bottom of webpage 22

December 24, 2021

Sci Fi/Sci Fact - Back to the Future: Time travel & Hovercars

Dr Rodrigo Martinez Gazoni, Research Fellow at the University of Canterbury fact checks the science behind Back to the Future, from flying cars to time travel. 

Dr Martinez Gazoni was too young to watch the movie when it first came out, but once he saw the film he couldn't wait for 2015 when we would have flying cars.

"Here we are six years later and I still haven't seen [hovercars]," he said. 

But he believes hovercars could become a reality if we really wanted them.

"I'm very optimistic. I'm absolutely sure that we will be able to do something like that in the next ten years."

But Dr Martinez Gazoni warns they might not be the dream solution to our transport problems.

"The problem will be traffic. Not traffic jams, but traffic itself. It would be really, really dangerous."MFF social media bottom of webpage 21

December 17, 2021

Sci Fi/Sci Fact - Xmen: Wolverine's Adamantium Claws

Marvel's Wolverine first appeared in 1974. He is a gruff Canadian mutant who joins the superhero league of X-Men. Wolverine has super healing abilities and claws that come out when he's angry, which catch the attention of shady military figures who try to turn him into a weapon by fusing Adamantium to his skeleton.

Associate Investigator Dr Chris Bumby, Principal Scientist at Victoria University of Wellington’s Robinson Institute, gives us his scientific take on Adamantium.

He says adamantium appears to be strong, tough and hard which in scientific terms each have very specific meanings. And about the the time Marvel began writing the Wolverine stories, titanium technology was really taking off.MFF social media bottom of webpage 20


December 10, 2021

Sci Fi/Sci Fact - Star Trek: Dilithium Crystals

Dilithium crystals enable the Starship Enterprise to enter warp speed and travel across the universe. Without them, matter and anti-matter in the warp core would create an annihilation reaction. Or would it?

Dr Krista Steenbergen, Associate Investigator and Physics lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington said if you squeeze lithium down it becomes a dilithium solid. And she said anti-matter is a very real thing too

"We can play around with it, particularly in particle accelerators," she said, "It is a thing that if you collide matter with anti-matter, a big one would be an electron and a positron, you get an annihilation and a large amount of energy."MFF social media bottom of webpage 19

December 10, 2021

Sci Fi/Sci Fact - Flubber: Fun or Frightening?

If we take the 1997 version on Flubber, it is a fluorescent green, slimy-looking rubbery substance with endless energy. It defies the laws of physics and if it was real could be a terrifying prospect.

When something bounces it looses energy every time it hits the ground, but Dr. Nathaniel Davis, Associate Investigator and Lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Victoria University of Wellington said there are two ways something could get around this basic scientific principal.

"One is it has some form of internal energy that it's releasing," he said, "kind of like a battery. Or it's somehow absorbing energy on each bounce."

Dr Davis said there is some evidence that Flubber absorbs energy from around itself and that prospect is terrifying.

"It's going to be bouncing around the universe taking all the energy and never stopping until there's no energy left."MFF social media bottom of webpage 18

December 10, 2021

Sci-Fi/Sci-Fact - Ironman's Arc Reactor

James Rice is a PhD student researching superconducting power supplies for fusion energy applications at the Robinson Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, where he works closely with MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator, Dr. Chris Bumby. - He gives us his scientific take on Ironman's Arc Reactor.MFF social media bottom of webpage 17

December 9, 2021