The Nanofibers in '3 Body Problem' Are Real, and Yes, They Can Do That

3 body problem nanofibers
The Nanofibers in '3 Body Problem' Are RealNetflix

The following story contains spoilers for Netflix's 3 Body Problem.

THERE ARE A lot of complex scientific topics present in Netflix's 3 Body Problem (presented, believe it or not, in a far more digestible way than the intense concepts presented in author Cixin Liu's books). The fun part? Almost all of the science presented is based, one way or another, in facts or theory. The not-so-fun part? It's not exactly the way things could go down today—this is a sci-fi story after all, and, as far as I know, there's not a Trisolaran invasion on the horizon.

One of the biggest concepts introduced in 3 Body Problem is the idea of nanotechnology, and, specifically, nanofibers. The Three-Body Problem book's protagonist has this as one of his many skills, but since that character is split into five different people for Netflix's series, each character gets their own defining skills and qualities. Dr. Auggie Salazar (Eiza Gonzalez), becomes our nanofiber effort—she's revolutionized the field and technology, and sets the stage for what becomes the season's biggest and most horrifying set piece.

If you've already seen the scene, you know what we're talking about—but we'll recap just in case. As a way to preserve technology aboard an enemy ship—the Judgment Day, chartered by the reclusive billionaire and alien sympathizer Mike Evans (Jonathan Pryce)—Auggie's nanofiber technology is essentially used as an invisible, razor-sharp lattice. It brutally, violently, kills everyone on board—men, women, and children included—but leaves the Trisolan alien technology salvagable for the humans to take advantage of.

The scene makes for a great moment for Gonzalez to act, as Auggie is caught between pride for her technological advancements, and the horror of what that same technology is capable of carrying out. (As depicted in the season finale, her ideal use of the nanofiber tech is simply to filter water for settings that really need it, for example).

Here's a little bit more to know about nanofibers, in the context of 3 Body Problem.

Stream 3 Body Problem Here

What are nanofibers?

3 body problem nanofibers

To put it simply, nanofibers are a super, super thin material that can be made from a super strong (and super thin) carbon material, and are generally good conductors of heat and electricity. If made to be super taut—as seen in the early-episode nanotech demonstration—nanofibers could theoretically cut through just about anything, while appearing invisible.

How do nanofibers fit into 3 Body Problem?

3 body problem nanofibers

With Auggie's role as the chief nanotechnology expert in 3 Body Problem, she becomes our primary character who sees the famed countdown in front of her eyes. This turns out to be, of course, because the Trisolarans know what her technology is capable of (spoiler alert: it's detrimental to them), and so they use their super-advanced Sophon computer technology to blast the countdown in front of her eyes, trying to coerce/convince her to halt her research.

And briefly, she does. But eventually she's called back to it, and we see the destruction of the Judgment Day and all aboard in Episode 5.

Can nanofibers really cut through boats, diamonds, humans, and anything else?

3 body problem nanofibers

Netflix's Tudum interviewed Dr. Matt Kenzie, who is not only an associate professor of physics at University of Cambridge, but also the science advisor for showrunners David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alexander Woo on 3 Body Problem—so basically, his calculations are what made the show's science go.

Kenzie says, in short, that nanofibers are too expensive and hard to contain to be made at a scale large enough for Auggie's company and the scene in the Panama Canal with the Judgment Day to play out—but that nanofibers could truly cut through "almost anything."

IGN also interviewed a Dr. Erin McDonald, who has a PhD. in astrophysics and serves as a consultant for the entire Star Trek franchise, to ask about 3 Body Problem. She says that from a material science perspective, the Judgment Day sequence is completely unrealistic ("in a way, that’s hot nonsense"). But as far as physics, she sees a way:

Atom bonds are extremely strong. That’s the nuclear bomb, right? Splitting an atom and releasing the energy that holds that atom. There’s tons of energy there. So, could you then chain them so they could cut through anything and destroy things? Suuuuuuuure. If you are going down that route, then yes.

So, the word "theoretically" is doing a lot of work here, but everything we see happen in that 3 Body Problem scene—from bodies slicing in half to backpacks slicing in half to the metal of the boat slicing like a loaf of bread—could happen (if, you know, the resources were there).

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