Nov
20
2006

Science Royale: The science behind James Bond’s methods

Bond Science: In his last movie as James Bond, Pierce Brosnan drove this Astin Martin car that could turn itself invisible with the flip of a switch. That "spy science" is not on the immediate horizon, but other Bond gadgets of the past have worked their way into our technology of today.
Bond Science: In his last movie as James Bond, Pierce Brosnan drove this Astin Martin car that could turn itself invisible with the flip of a switch. That "spy science" is not on the immediate horizon, but other Bond gadgets of the past have worked their way into our technology of today.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a James Bond freak. And I was off to the theater Friday night to see the latest James Bond movie, “Casino Royale.” Of the 20-some Bond movies that have been made, it has the least use of fancy gadgets to get James out of a jam.

But I’ve also found a website that has a ton of information about the science in all its spectacular glory of for James Bond. It’s by the BBC and called Hot Topics: James Bond.

The section I loved delves into the science behind some of the most famous gadgets in James Bond movies. You can learn more by clicking on the link above or just peruse through my quick summary offered here:

Gadget: Blue X-Ray glasses, The World Is Not Enough, 1999
Both stylish and functional, their X-ray ability allows Bond to wander though a casino viewing concealed weapons and inspecting ladies' lingerie.

Could it work? Nice idea, of course, but Bond's glasses stretch the barriers of X-ray technology a little too far. Like light and radio waves, X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation. They are most widely used in medicine to visualise bones and organs.
But they also play an important role in security technology. The baggage screening machines used in airports, for example, detect X-rays that are reflected back from an object and display the results on a monitor. These fridge-sized devices will reveal metal objects like knives, guns, maybe even bra fasteners -- though not the bra itself. Unfortunately, it requires the subject to stand stationary for a few seconds in order to work properly.
Perhaps the best solution to 007’s surveillance problem is the hand-held ultrasound “flashlight” developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S. It’s essentially a scaled-down version of the type of scanner used for viewing a fetus inside the womb. It looks like a small windowpane attached to a ray gun. When placed against the patient, sound waves rather than X-rays penetrate into the body. The reflecting echo produces a live moving image

Gadget: Imitation fingerprints, Diamonds Are Forever, 1971

Could it work? Fake prints made out of common household ingredients can fool expensive biometric security systems which use fingerprints for identification. Researchers in Japan recently tricked one security system by using fake fingerprints lifted from a gelatine mould.

Gadget: Underwater breather, Thunderball, 1965
This emergency device allowed 007 enough oxygen to breathe underwater for about four minutes. It saved his life during an underwater battle when his scuba breathing apparatus had been forcefully removed.

Could it work? An ingenious idea -- unfortunately, it’s total fantasy. A one-gallon tank contains around 30 minutes of compressed air. The smallest mini breather available is an emergency tank about the size of a fizzy drink can. It only lasts for about two minutes -- or 40 breaths.

Gadget: Jetpack, Thunderball, 1965
One of the most spectacular gismos, the jetpack, only appears for a moment. Bond straps it on and escapes over a high wall to his waiting Aston Martin DB5 -- it’s small enough to fit in the truck of the car.

Could it work? The jetpack is real and was originally developed for the U.S. Army by Bell Textron Laboratories. High pressure nitrogen gas is released through the nozzles to give a powerful, non-combusting rocket propulsion. It could carry a person over 30-foot-high obstacles at a speed of 7 to 10 miles per hour. Having just 30 seconds flight time, however, the jetpack was scrapped by the army. These days, it's reserved for novelty value and was used in the 1984 Olympic opening ceremony in Los Angeles.

By the way, if you like James Bond and the Science Museum of Minnesota, you'll also get a kick out of this: a scene in Casino Royale features Bond chasing a villian through Body Worlds, which is currently on exhibition at our museum through Dec. 3.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Sam Barth's picture
Sam Barth says:

You cheapskates have just copied the BBC website!!! At least give them some credit

posted on Tue, 03/13/2007 - 10:03am

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