Science Lessons We Learned from Pop Culture

Pop culture is often a form of escapism. We dive deep into fictional worlds, finding comfort in their creativity, creatures, and conundrums. The characters reflect our values and lives, but with the added bonus of robots or dinosaurs. Yet there’s often many lessons to be learned from pop culture. Even sci-fi, fantasy, and action-adventure media have grains of truth nestled in between the outlandish.

The facts we are discussing today are from films steeped in science. Well, perhaps it’s futuristic science or fantasy science. Still, it’s close enough to our reality that we can definitely learn something. Get ready to take some notes because pop culture science class is in session.

Jurassic Park

Genetics and Reproduction

The premise of Jurassic Park is one geneticists dream of: successful cloning. What’s more science fiction than a whole franchise full of clones that are living, breathing dinosaurs hatched from fertilized eggs? This feat of genetic engineering is accomplished by extracting dinosaur DNA from prehistoric mosquitoes preserved in amber. Frog DNA is utilized to fill in the missing links, and all of the dinosaurs are made female to prevent natural reproduction.

Unfortunately, the scientists fail to account for a special trait found in select amphibians. The frog DNA they use comes from frogs that can alter their sex in a single-sex environment. Thus, the dinosaurs are able to breed. When the surviving humans escape Jurassic Park, AKA Isla Nublar, they leave a fully functioning and growing society of independent dinosaurs. The birds and the bees have nothing on dinosaurs.

Back to the Future

Rules of Time Travel

Every time travel adventure has a different version of the main rules and impacts, but one consistent warning is: Don’t change the past. Well, Marty McFly from Back to the Future accidentally prevents his parents from meeting when he travels to 1955. His siblings fade from a family photo, and Marty fears he’s next With his entire existence in jeopardy, Marty embarks on a series of increasingly hysterical hijinks to reconcile his mom and dad. And he succeeds!

Because Back to the Future is a comedy, Marty doesn’t entirely learn his lesson. There’s no dire consequences. Instead, Marty writes a note to the Doc Brown from the past warning him of a future where he may get shot, and Doc wears a bulletproof vest in the present in order to survive. Additionally, Marty’s entire family dynamic has altered. Whereas his parents were once kind of disappointing, they’re now successful, fit, happy, and wealthy. And Doc is back from the future to bring Marty along for more fate-altering adventures. So … it’s okay to change stuff if it’s for personal gain, apparently.


Time is Relative

In Labyrinth, Sarah Williams is babysitting her troublesome baby brother when she wishes the goblins would take him away. And, to her surprise, they do. The goblins whisk Toby into the fantastical, maze-filled, perilous world controlled by Jareth the Goblin King. If Sarah wants Toby back, she must solve the King’s labyrinth in 13 hours. At certain points, Jareth even meddles with space and time to throw her off. Although Sarah faces many trials and tribulations, she ultimately recovers her brother.

When Sarah returns to the real world, not much time has passed. Her parents are back from their night out, but that couldn’t have taken an entire 13 hours. Yet the presence of Sarah’s new Labyrinth friends in her reality implies it wasn’t all just a dream. So, it stands to reason that time moves differently in that realm. Because her frame of reference was different in one place, the rate of change for time was also different. Kind of trippy, right? Sure. But what else should you expect from an ’80s fantasy film?


The Butterfly Effect

The first Terminator movie revolves around two beings who arrive from the year 2029 as they look for Sarah Connor. One, the Terminator, is intent on murdering her. The other, Kyle Reese, wants to save her. They both think that they are changing the past. In reality, they are securing the future, as these events should, have, and will all occur because of their presence β€” with some minor differences.

This is all due to the butterfly effect. Simply put, this concept from chaos theory indicates that a very small change to initial conditions can create a significantly different outcome. In The Terminator, this is illustrated by the small change of the Terminator and Kyle’s arrival in the past. From falling in love to taking a simple photograph, events domino into one another as they ripple into the future. But this future is slightly altered, since the Resistance has already happened and Sarah and Kyle’s son has already been born. Now his circumstances and the information available to him have changed, giving him untold advantages against Skynet. The Terminator is thus an example of the butterfly effect gone right.


Space is a Vacuum

Even Marvel’s Spider-Man knows this one! Set in space, Alien already takes its cues from actual astronauts and the logistics of deep space travel. Then, things get horrifying. There are xenomorph creatures and androids, all who follow the basic scientific principles we’ve imagined for such discoveries with typical terrifying twists.

But the most important lesson from Alien is one that’s been utilized in many sci-fi properties since. Once Ellen Ripley is aboard a shuttle, she discovers the alien is inside with her. To defeat it, she opens an airlock door. The alien struggles, and there’s a grappling hook involved, but eventually Ellen manages to jettison it into the depths of space β€” sucks to be that xenomorph.

From the inner workings of time to basic biology, there is a lot to be learned from our sci-fi and fantasy favorites.

What are some science lessons you’ve learned from pop culture? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!