The science behind The Hunger Games

Clothes that burst into synthetic flames, lethal bioengineered wasps and lotions that can heal deep wounds overnight: these are just some of the technological feats that appear in hit film The Hunger Games, currently taking cinemas by storm.

But what of the science behind them – are they feasible, or destined to remain in the realms of science fiction? Here is a rundown of four of these creations that appear in the film’s dystopian vision of the future.

1. Clothing that generates synthetic fire


When heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is first presented to the Capitol crowd, her stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) ensures she makes an impression by clothing her in a fabric that creates synthetic fire, earning her the nickname “the girl on fire”. Advances in “wearable tech”, such as fibre-optic garments that emit light, may be coming on leaps and bounds, but when it comes to clothes that generate fake fire, and more importantly don’t frazzle the wearer, these incendiary garments look set to remain a far-off reality. But what we do have are clothes that can withstand searingly-hot flames – 1,100 ˚C, to be exact. A video demonstrates the latest in fire-resistant clothing, made of three layers of heat-resistant materials, covered with a new flameproof fabric, which can protect its wearer for 12 seconds. It might not quite earn Katniss the “girl on fire” nickname, but it would certainly have come in handy when she gets pelted with fireballs later in the film.

2. Hovercraft


In the world of The Hunger Games, hovercraft are used mainly in the Capitol, and it is on a type of hovering train that Katniss is whisked from her home to compete in the brutal games. Here in the real world of 2012, we may be far from commuting to work in  flying cars (much to the disappointment of fans of Marty McFly’s hoverboard in Back to the Future 2), but we have had levitating trains for a while now, with Shanghai residents being able to ride on a maglev (magnetic levitation) train since 2004. As for hovercraft that manage to attain a significant height above the ground, rather than skimming just above surfaces, we may be waiting some time.

3. Bioengineered creatures


In The Hunger Games, among the many dangers that Katniss and her competitors must watch out for are genetically-engineered wasps and dogs: the former have stings that cause searing pain, hallucinations, and even death, while the dogs are simply huge and can bite your head off. Genetically-engineering creatures is, of course, not science fiction for us in 2012, with green glowing pigs, spider goats, and “mighty mice” happening in the here and now.

4. Rapid-healing lotion


A couple of the characters that get injured in the film are able to heal their wounds quickly thanks to some rapid-healing lotion they are lucky enough to receive during the games. Although we don’t have instant-healing creams now, research ranging from stem cell treatments to drugs that encourage faster healing with fewer scars and more may one day progress healthcare to such an extent that this could become a possibility.

  1. Lizzie

    I'm thinking I probably wouldn't want to wear a coat made from fire. Although I suppose it could come in useful in winter…

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© Melanie Hall 2017