i’m a huge fan of both sciences and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it’s great when these two collide. This is exactly what happened in Episode 5 of WandaVision.
Here is my super basic introduction to WandaVision for those of you who haven’t seen it. Wanda is a superhero with magical powers that allow her to do all kinds of cool stuff. But one thing that might not be so cool is that it can turn the town of Westview (and all of its people) into something of a TV show. I know it sounds weird, but I’m just trying to set up the physics. In order to keep most of the people out of her imaginary spectacle, Wanda creates a kind of radiation field around the city called the Hex.
One of the people trying to figure out what’s going on with Westview is SWORD agent Monica Rambeau. After being thrown from the Hex, Monica wants to go back there and find out Wanda’s motivation. However, there is one problem: the Hex does stuff to people. In WandaVision, that radiance can make you think you’re on a 1970s sitcom or give you superpowers. (In the real world, radiation disrupts molecular bonds, including those in cells in our bodies. For humans, this is just plain bad.)
In Monica’s case, she wisely thinks that she needs some kind of radiation shield to get through it and she works out her calculations on a board. (Here you can see some of his calculations.)
So, provided you had to get into Westview as well, how would you calculate how much armor you would need? Are these equations even legitimate? Let’s find out.
What is radiation, anyway?
First, we need to determine what “radiation” really is. Historically, people discovered radiation before they understood exactly what was going on. At first, they categorized it into three categories: alpha, beta, gamma (not very creative). Alpha and beta radiation are particles emitted, often due to some type of nuclear reaction. Gamma rays are not particles, but rather a short wavelength of electromagnetic radiation.
Gamma rays are a type of electromagnetic wave, just like radio waves, visible light, and ultraviolet light. Technically, you could think of all electromagnetic waves as “radiation,” but it turns out that very small wavelengths are those that interact with cells in your body at higher energy levels, causing them to interact with cells in your body. makes it more dangerous. Not only can these rays deposit energy in human tissue, they can also damage DNA and cause mutations. (Gamma rays are highly unlikely to turn you into the Hulk.)
All types of radiation are in fact vastly different. The alpha particle is (relatively) heavy and positively charged, but the beta particle has a lower mass and can be negatively or positively charged. Gamma rays are only oscillating electric and magnetic fields. There is also a fourth type, neutron radiation, which has no electric charge. It should be noted that neutrons were discovered long after the first three types of radiation, so this type did not receive a cool Greek letter like the others.
How do you calculate radiation protection?
Now we need to calculate the amount of armor required for Monica’s mission beyond the hexagonal field and into Westview. How about using a bunch of lead, doesn’t that stop radiation? At least that’s how you stop superman’s x-ray vision. (Yes, I know Superman is in the DC Universe, not the MCU.)
Lead effectively stops radiation, but a shielding calculation is more complicated than just slapping thick lead walls. There are several important things to consider when calculating the thickness of a particular shield.