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Stranger Things and the Department of Energy

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Tagged As: DOE, Entertainment, and Stranger Things

The 80s throwback fictional series Stranger Things by Netflix quickly became one of the most popular shows in the United States, almost reaching the viewership of HBO's Game of Thrones. Taking place in a small Indiana town, Stranger Things follows the mystery of a boy's disappearance into another dimension, allegedly opened up by telekinetic experiments on children conducted by the Department of Energy.

The show achieved popularity so quickly that the Department of Energy actually released a public relations statement addressing four distinct things the agency does not do, such as:

  • The Energy Department Doesn't Explore Parallel Universes
  • The Energy Department Doesn’t Mess With Monsters
  • National Laboratory Scientists Aren't Evil
  • Lights Aren’t Powered by Monsters or Other Lifeforms

That first bullet was particularly interesting because well, the Department of Energy kind of does explore parallel universes. In one Stranger Things scene, the boys ask their science instructor about other dimensions and he offers an explanation of a human on a tightrope that can only move forward and backward. Meanwhile, different creatures, like an insect, are able to navigate the sides and even the upside down portion of the tightrope which provide more "dimensions" of perception and reality. Interestingly, that is almost exactly how high energy physicists at CERN explain it:

"Einstein’s general theory of relativity tells us that space can expand, contract, and bend. Now if one dimension were to contract to a size smaller than an atom, it would be hidden from our view. But if we could look on a small enough scale, that hidden dimension might become visible again. Imagine a person walking on a tightrope. She can only move backward and forward; but not left and right, nor up and down, so she only sees one dimension. Ants living on a much smaller scale could move around the cable, in what would appear like an extra dimension to the tightrope-walker."

While CERN's explanation shows Stranger Things described the concept accurately from a theory perspective, how does it really tie in the Department of Energy? The agency's Energy Frontier website directly alludes to how "high energy particle collisions also allow researchers to explore mechanisms of black hole production, search for extra dimensions of space, and pursue other exotic phenomena." Perhaps more obviously, Slide 13 of the 2015 Status of the Department of Energy's High Energy Physics Program lists the Energy Frontier's goal as including dark matter and extra dimensions.

So the keeper of the United States nuclear arsenal IS on a quest for alternate dimensions! Now if only some annual reports could unearth the Department of Energy's interest in creepy monsters and child experimentation ...

UPDATE: Lachlan Markay of the Washington Free Beacon FOIA'd the Department of Energy and got a response in the form of 163 scanned pages of documents and emails now available on-line (pdf). Even the Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz, chimed in on the matter during an interview stating, "I will note that actually we do work in parallel universes .... We are also a big supporter of very basic science and that includes trying to understand the basic particles of nature and the structure of the universe. Theoretical physics ... looks at things like higher dimensions than three dimensions, and parallel universes."

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