By Gayle Fee
March 21, 2016
When you need some scientific expertise for a movie about busting ghosts, who you gonna call? Well, MIT of course!
So when “Ghostbusters” director Paul Feig and his props peeps needed some help designing the proton packs for his all-girl gang of “Ghostbusters,” they reached out to Dr. James Maxwell, a nuclear physicist at the school for wicked smart science nerds in Cambridge.
“I geeked out and wrote a whole thesis on it,” Maxwell told the Track. “I wrote a fake abstract like a quack might give at a scientific conference to try and convince people that it is real.”
Maxwell, whose real job was studying the makeup of nucleons for reasons that are way above our pay grade, is featured on a new “Ghostbusters” website, paranormalstudieslab.com, explaining how the ghostbusting equipment could work.
“The proton pack was already designed by the prop folks and I had to assess this thing and kind of form in my own mind how a ghost-catching device would work,” he said. “So it was kind of a fun day of me sitting around thinking about how you could build one of these things on such a small scale.”
Maxwell tweaked the design to make it appear more scientifically plausible and a colleague, MIT prof Lindley Winslow, wrote up all the scientific formulas and notes that are scattered around the “Ghostbusters” lab.
Speaking of which, when Feig got a peek at Maxwell’s lab in Cambridge — which featured a very cool piece of equipment called a polarized helium 3 apparatus — he decided the “Ghostbusters” had to have one.
“So they asked me to make a fake helium polarizing apparatus and I contacted some glass blowers and borrowed some derelict equipment from MIT,” he said.
Before he knew it, Feig and even Melissa McCarthy were ringing up Maxwell to get his take on certain lines in the script that had to do with their pseudo science.
“I think they’re definitely using some of my words. It’s an honor,” he said.
Especially since, Maxwell said, the original “Ghostbusters” movie actually inspired him to become a scientist.
“When we were young, my friends and I used to play ‘Ghostbusters’ on the playground. We all had the action figures,” he said. “I became a nuclear physicist, my best friend has his Ph.D. in chemistry. It speaks to a certain degree of how important it is to have scientific role models in film, particularly female scientists. We want more women to get involved with physics.”
Which is why Maxwell thinks the Internet trolls who are down on the all-female cast — McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnonand Leslie Jones— deserved to be Slimed!
“I don’t know why people are making such a big deal of that,” he said. “Paul Feig was looking for the funniest actors and I think he found them.”
BTW, in case you were wondering, Maxwell — who now works at the Department of Energy’s Jefferson Labin Virginia — ain’t afraid of no ghost, because he doesn’t believe in them.
“No, sorry, I don’t think there are ghosts,” he said. “There’s no scientific explanation for ghosts and if there were, it wouldn’t be such a fun area for ‘Ghostbusters’ to play around in.”