This post contains minor spoilers for Black Panther.
One of the abiding pleasures of science fiction and comic book movies is watching the endless parade of future-tech gadgets on display. Old-school sci-fi veterans can tell you: Watch enough sci-fi movies, going back to the ’50s and ’60s, and it’s almost like a parallel universe in which fiction presents a technology, then science catches up a few decades later.
Black Panther, the latest installment from Marvel Studios, is a movie you’ll want to see for a lot of reasons. But it’s also squarely in the sci-fi tradition of presenting tomorrowland technologies today. Here we take a look at three elements of future-tech science from the movie, then compare each to real-world developments from the world’s leading research labs and industrial design studios.
We haven’t quite achieved the space-age miracles on display in Black Panther. But we’re closer than you might think.
The fiction: Those familiar with the mythology of the Marvel comic book universe will already be familiar with the mystical super-metal known as vibranium. Planted on Earth by a meteorite, and mined over centuries in Black Panther’s native country of Wakanda, the metal absorbs any kinetic energy directed at it, rendering it virtually indestructible. Black Panther’s claws are made from vibranium, and it’s woven into his armored suit as well. (Captain America’s shield is also made from a unique vibranium alloy, according to Marvel lore.)
The science: In December 2017, research published in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology detailed a new kind of lightweight and flexible material that instantly becomes harder than diamond upon any significant impact. A variation of the carbon material known as graphene, the material combines two adjoining layers of flexible carbon, each one atom in thickness. When deformed by ballistic energy or any sudden outside pressure — a bullet, say — the layers snap together to become rigid and virtually impenetrable.
Developers say the material, called diamene, could potentially be used to create an entirely new class of protective coatings and armor for soldiers, vehicles, and even spacecraft. Captain America fans will note that the research was funded by the Basic Energy Sciences Office of the US Department of Energy.
The fiction: Ever since that Princess Leia hologram first popped in the original 1977 Star Wars, holographic displays have been a virtually mandated element in science fiction films — Iron Man, Avatar, etc. Black Panther keeps the streak alive as King T’Challa and his team of technicians in Wakanda use wrist-mounted hologram projectors to manage a kind of perpetual, three-dimensional Facetime chat.
The science: Holographic displays of the Princess Leia variety are technically known as 3-D free-space volumetric images, and they’re one of the busiest areas of research right now in optical labs. In January, researchers at Brigham Young University unveiled a projection system that produces full-color 3-D images that float in mid-air. The images can be seen from any angle, and the system does not require any projection surface or special glasses.
Using a technique called photophoretic optical trapping, the BYU system works by suspending tiny physical particles in mid-air using special projection lenses. The physical particles then serve as the projection “screen” for a second set of ultra-fine lasers. Move the particles fast enough, and you can draw lines in thin air.
The system can also generate different optical effects, colors, and images by using different kinds of materials – glass, tungsten, even tiny diamond flecks. The catch? As of now, the images are really tiny — smaller than your pinkie fingernail — but researchers are already working on ramping up the image size.
The fiction: Like any self-respecting technologically advanced civilization, the nation of Wakanda boasts superior transportation options for its citizens. Watch for a decidedly kick-ass maglev train scene in the new movie. Black Panther’s strike team also makes use of an armored flying vehicle — a flying car, basically — referencing a science-fiction dream that dates back to the 1920s.
The science: The flying vehicles in Black Panther are explained away with some vague talk about the miraculous properties of vibranium. But in real life, there are several major initiatives already in motion with the ultimate goal of putting real flying cars into the sky. Major industry players like Airbus and Uber have gone public with their plans, and you can assume there’s plenty of other work being done behind closed hangar doors.
In fact, depending on how you define your terms, we already have several flying cars in the air already. Single-rider passenger drones like China’s Ehang 184 are basically up-sized quadcopters, and Google co-founder Larry Page is backing a kind of flying ATV called the Kitty Hawk.
But if you want a glimpse of an even crazier future, be sure to check out Germany’s Lilium Jet, developed in part by the European Space Agency. The Lilium looks like the flying car we all envision in our heads, a closed-cockpit mini-spaceship that can take off and land in crowded urban environments.
There are approximately 7,000 good reasons to see Black Panther, which is one of the best comic book movies in recent years. The script has an of-the-moment cultural relevancy that’s profoundly resonant, and the performances are about five clicks finer than what you usually find in this genre. There’s also a totally bananas chase sequence that you don’t want to miss.
But for those of us who like to track the strange rhythms of science fiction history, the film is also part of a proud pop culture tradition. Tomorrow’s cool stuff today. Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Glenn McDonald is a freelance writer, editor, and game designer.
Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.
What is special about the year of the Rabbit?
As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.
What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?
There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.
New South Wales
Darling Harbour Fireworks When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.
Dragon Boat Races When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.
Lion Dances When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.
Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.
Auntie Philter When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.
Lunar New Year Festival When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.
BriAsia Festival When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.
Chinatown Adelaide Street Party When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.
Crown Perth When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.