Former MIT researcher explains how ‘Ghostbusters’ gear would work

By Steve Annear
Boston Globe
March 04, 2016

The Ghostbusters in Columbia Pictures' new film. (Hopper Stone, SMPSP)
The Ghostbusters in Columbia Pictures’ new film. (Hopper Stone, SMPSP)

Paul Feig put a lot of time and effort into designing the ghoul-blasting, apparition-capturing weapons used in the new “Ghostbusters” film set for release this summer.

In fact, the director and his team were so determined to perfect the arsenal of scientific weaponry used by the film’s characters that they enlisted the help of a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher to explain the dynamics of the complex devices.

In a video quietly released at the same time as the “Ghostbusters” movie’s first official trailer Thursday, James Maxwell, who worked as a technical adviser to filmmakers shooting in Boston last year, breaks down the science behind the “proton packs.”

“The first thing that they asked me was, ‘How would a proton pack work with as few huge leaps of miraculous science as possible?’” Maxwell says in the behind-the-scenes video, which is called “Busting Ghosts with Science.”

Maxwell goes on to explain that he looked at the proton packs featured in the 1980s “Ghostbusters” movie, and then, with a few tweaks, created an updated version. He then lists the parts of the proton packs, which include a “Synchrotron,” a cryogen system, and superconducting magnets.

“Particle accelerators are real. Superconducting magnets are real — the big leaps of faith are actually doing it in the space [of the proton packs] that’s allowed,” Maxwell says in the video.

In an e-mail Friday, Maxwell explained that he got the opportunity to work with Feig after filmmakers visited MIT’s campus.

Workers from the film’s props department, he said, toured his lab looking for inspiration for the movie.

“They took photos of a bunch of compelling equipment in the labs around MIT, and, in particular, the Laboratory for Nuclear Science,” Maxwell said. “When they showed Paul Feig the photos, he apparently pointed to my apparatus and had to have it. So I came on to replicate my MIT lab.”

At the time the new movie was made, Maxwell was a postdoctoral student at MIT’s Lab for Nuclear Science. He recently took a job at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia after spending three years conducting research at the Cambridge school.

Maxwell got to be on hand for the filming of the lab scenes, and even got to explain to that cast what his personal research was about.

“The gadget consulting came a bit later,” he said. “It was my job to explain in credible terms what each of the scientific-looking components would actually do. I had a good deal of fun with it.”

The video clip featuring Maxwell shows off Feig’s reimagined version of the classic gadgets used in the first film by the Ghostbusters team, which included characters played by Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

The new film features an all-female group of Ghostbusters, played by Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon.

It also shows off whiteboards and pieces of paper on the film’s set that are scrawled with scientific formulas. Maxwell says in the video that the writing was done by one of his former colleagues.

A link to find the “secret” video featuring Maxwell was hidden in the writing on a whiteboard in the trailer dropped this week.

The message directs people to a website for the Paranormal Studies Lab. It’s there that detailed schematics of the proton packs, ECTO-1 car, and traps used to capture ghouls appear.

Feig told Entertainment Weekly recently he wanted to make the devices realistic — and show the new Ghostbusters creating them.

“I didn’t like the idea of them being handed technology. I wanted to see it develop — I’m such a tech head,” Feig said.

WATCH: GHOSTBUSTERS Trailer (In theaters July 15)
6 Boston locations you might have missed in the new Ghostbusters trailer



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