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Go Go Gadget: Technology in Film & Popular Culture

ghostbusters Go Go Gadget: Technology in Film & Popular Culture

This post is part of a week-long series on gadgets: the technological developments that are innovative in function and design, and continue to make us consider the possibilities.

By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)

It’s 1984.  You’re in footed pajamas.  A strange noise comes from your parents’ bedroom closet.  On the coffee table lie a shoebox, a paper towel tube, some

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This post is part of a week-long series on gadgets: the technological developments that are innovative in function and design, and continue to make us consider the possibilities.

By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)

It’s 1984.  You’re in footed pajamas.  A strange noise comes from your parents’ bedroom closet.  On the coffee table lie a shoebox, a paper towel tube, some bottle tops, and a vacuum hose.  What do you do?

Or, a more appropriate question would be: “who ya gonna call?”

To this day, any one of those items conjures up memories of various models of DIY Proton Packs I’ve executed throughout my childhood, and there are likely millions of twenty-somethings that share this same sentiment.  Twenty-five years later, those jumpsuit-clad scientists and one quick-as-a-whip Marine known as the Ghostbusters still attract a cult following, and the Proton Pack remains a cultural icon.

Yet, despite various tutorials available throughout the Net on building replica models, nothing takes care of supernatural scum – and the occasional oversized marshmallow – like a real Proton Pack.

The Proton Pack described in the move is a portable weapon with a point-and-shoot handheld device, or Neutrona Wand, that fires a positively charged particle beam (protons) at “negatively charged ectoplasmic entities” (ghosts), thereby neutralizing the subject.

Neat, huh?  While there have been quite a few attempts at constructing the real deal,  the Proton Pack remains one of the greatest fictional gadgets of all time.  However, it joins the ranks of some pretty legendary devices.  Here’s my list of all-time greatest movie gadgets:

1. The Star Trek Transporter

Gene Roddenberry’s series following the interstellar adventures of the fictional Starship Enterprise is responsible for much of today’s technological innovations, but one invention that has yet to be developed is the legendary Transporter.  The Transporter works by dematerializing a person or object into energy patterns that are then beamed to a target; the energy patterns are reconverted into matter upon arrival at the destination.  Believe it or not, we may not be too far off: scientists at University of Maryland’s Joint Quantum Institute figured out a way to teleport information from one atom to another across the distance of a meter.

2. Back to the Future’s Delorean Time Machine

Everyone remembers their first car: the way the leather smelled when you first got in, the way it shone after its first wash, the way it shot you back thirty years into the past…which is precisely what happened to Marty McFly in 1985’s Back to the Future.  Although electric cars have been around since the 19th century, the Doc’s Delorean time machine is probably the first to require a plutonium-fueled nuclear reaction to generate the jigawatt-or-so of energy needed to blast its driver into the past.  The real pearl of the Delorean is its flux capacitor, which holds the secret to time travel.  It’s probably for the best that this secret is never disclosed, because I suggest that we steer clear from trying to change the past…and concentrate on changing our DMC-12s into kick-ass replica rides instead.

3. Men in Black’s Neuralizer

The overwhelming feeling of déjà vu is one that has perplexed humans for centuries.  Perhaps they are what remain of a past life.  Perhaps they are residual images from having our memories wiped out by government agents after witnessing evidence of life from other planets.   Or, at least, this is what Agent J concludes after seeing the effects of his government-issued neuralizer in the 1997 sci-fi flick Men in Black.  No sources offer up any idea of exactly how it works, other than the fact that it discharges a flash of light that erases the short-term memories of anyone not wearing a pair of Ray Bans.  The gadget was featured in the Science Channel’s “Sci-Fi Saved My Life” series, and creating a prototype for the neuralizer soon may be a reality.  Dr. Mark Lythgoe from University College London is hard at work mapping the parts of the brain that deal with alien recognition, and identified a drug that might be able to target the cognitive processes that respond to an extraterrestrial encounter.

Of course, there are some honorable mentions, Inspector Gadget’s helicopter hat and the iconic Star Wards light sabers, just to name a few.  What are your favorite science fiction movie gadgets?

(By the way, if you ain’t scared of no ghosts, you can submit your training video to enter the sweepstakes at GhostbustersIsHiring.com.  Guess we all know what I’ll be working on this weekend…)

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