Princess Life · Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Science of Disney: Sleeping Death

Hopefully none of the super cool science information below puts you to sleep!

So what caused Sleeping Beauty’s coma or death-like slumber?

Including Juliet imbibing a sleeping draught or Snow White eating a poisoned apple , fictional characters have been put into death-like states (or faked their own deaths) in myriad ways. So what likely caused Sleeping Beauty’s death-like state? How might pricking a finger have led to the princess losing consciousness? And could true love’s kiss really awaken someone from such a state? Maybe the magical secret is the too-coincidental-to-be-overlooked common thread of roses (that famous Shakespearean line, the color of Snow White’s lips, Sleeping Beauty’s secret identity), maybe it’s science or maybe it’s both.

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According to The Film Theorists, plants may be the culprit behind these medieval motionless maladies. But unfortunately the suggested plants refute my rose hypothesis: none of the likely suspects are in the Rosaceae (rose) family. First, atropa belladonna, a poisonous plant commonly found in medieval Germany (in which the authors of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, the Brothers Grimm, lived) might be what caused these princesses’ death-like states. In addition to being poisonous when ingested, this plant was often used to make poisonous arrows. And arrows are pretty similar to spindles, so it is possible that the spindle with which Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger was also coated in the same belladonna poison.

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Atropa belladonna is actually a combination of the name for a Greek Fate and the Italian word meaning beautiful woman

Atropa belladonna’s deathly powers can be attributed to a chemical makeup that is high in alkaloids. These alkaloids work by blocking receptors in the nervous system for a chemical called acetylcholine, like blocking all of the doors to the elevators and stairwells to prevent you (the acetylcholine in this analogy) from getting to the right floor of a building (neurons that control movement of muscles that regulate breathing and neurons that regulate heartbeat the heart). One of the main side effects of the specific alkaloid in atropa belladonna is to speed up the heartbeat, eventually leading to heart attack. Although the mechanism of delivery for this poison seemed good, it is more likely that Sleeping Beauty’s heartrate slowed down to a restful, death-like state rather than speeding up.

 

Another hypothesis that I think is more likely is that Sleeping Beauty went into a hypoglycemic diabetic coma after pricking her finger on a spindle that may have been coated in insulin.These comas are caused by the concentration of sugar in blood reaching too low of levels and the hormone insulin reduces the amount of sugar in the blood. While it is highly unlikely that Maleficent was able to isolate insulin into a substance in medieval times, the spindle might not have been necessary at all; the sum of experiences that Sleeping Beauty experienced leading up to the finger-pricking moment may have also caused the coma.  The clues are all there – she didn’t have a chance to eat her birthday dinner or cake and then had to walk briskly to the castle which would’ve depleted her body’s sugar reserves. Hypoglycemic diabetic comas have symptoms such as fatigue, weakness and light-headedness as well as shallow breathing which could all be some of the things that we see Sleeping Beauty experiencing in the Disney film. Furthermore, it is actually feasible that this state could have been cured by true love’s kiss. If Prince Philip’s lips and tongue were coated in several grams of glucose, this could have been enough to rebalance Sleeping Beauty’s blood sugar levels by allowing her to digest the glucose. All in favor of renaming Prince Philip to Prince Sugarlip from now on, say aye!

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Lastly, the third hypothesis is that Sleeping Beauty suffered head trauma and a subsequent coma after pricking her finger. But, Sarah, you might say, that’s silly; pricking a finger has nothing to do with head injury! And this is where my personal experience with something called a vasovagal syncope allows me to undermine that assumption. Vasovagal syncope causes someone to lose consciousness, often for only a few seconds or minutes, because some sort of external stimulus causes nerve signals (the same ones affected by atropa belladonna chemicals) to dramatically decrease heart rate, which lowers blood pressure, which prevents more blood and more oxygen to reach the brain.

My handful of vasovagal response experiences have been caused by triggers of descriptions pain or anything to do with breaking bones but several other people are triggered by needles or blood. You know what else is sharp like a needle and can draw blood? A spindle! So Sleeping Beauty could have lost consciousness and fell to the floor due to a vasovagal response to pricking her finger. In the process, she could have hit her head hard enough on the cobblestones of the tower room to be put into a coma. Unfortunately, there is still no scientific evidence showing that a kiss has the ability to awaken anyone from coma.

Thanks for reading!

Which do you think is the most plausible scientific explanation?

Check out my Instagram posts @thephdprincess for more science related to Sleeping Beauty! I just had too much information to fit into this one post!

Citations

Diabetic Comas

Vasovagal syncope

Listicles · Princess Life · Uncategorized

Disney Women in STEM

For The United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science (#IDWGS), I wanted to draw attention to the representation of the phenomenal females of Disney. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many easily recognizable female characters in STEM in Disney media. Of the approximately 200 characters classified as scientists on Disney Wiki, only about 20 of them were female and even fewer were in more than one episode of a TV show or in a major motion picture. Below I highlight some of the better known and lesser known females in science roles from Disney animation, live-action and park attractions.

Animated

Honey Lemon is kind of the perfect combination of the traditional Disney Princess and nerdy scientist. She is kind, optimistic, fashionable AND an adept chemical engineering student. I love how she counters most of the stereotypes of a mad scientist as a crotchety Caucasian man and helps to break down the shock that most people have women can’t be both beautiful and smart.

 

Gogo Tamago is an industrial design and mechanical engineering student in Big Hero 6 who uses the science of magnetism as her super power. Her line of “Stop whining, woman up!” gave a clue into how the culture of San Fransokyo is different from our current society. Athletic and sarcastic, she deserves just as much respect and admiration as the more traditionally feminine Honey Lemon.

Vanellope von Schweetz is an actual Princess (and President!) but also a resourceful enough engineer to build her own kart to compete in Sugar Rush races. She could have used a little bit more knowledge of computer code but her spunk and sympathetic nature make her a very endearing child racing prodigy.

 

Gadget Hackwrench (who also has a ride in Disneyland’s Toontown named after her!) is one of Chip and Dale’s friends (and main love interests) but doesn’t get as much recognition as she deserves. She’s an inventor and tinkerer that always comes up with creative solutions using everyday items. She can be feisty but is nevertheless a valuable member of the Rescue Rangers.

Lesser Known

The majority of animated STEM females have very small roles and in other cases they are the villains, like the Evil Queen, Ursula or Yzma using scientific (but more often just magical) powers to craft various potions. In more recent productions, like on Disney Jr.’s Miles from Tomorrowland, there are some more notable women and girls in STEM.

Tanya Vanderflock from Mighty Ducks is similar to Gadget Hackwrench in that she uses her mechanical genius to help her accomplish team’s goals.

 

Vivian Francis Porter from Kim Possible also suffered from people not taking her intellect seriously due to her stunning beauty. Maybe she’ll make an appearance in the upcoming live-action Kim Possible!

Sara BellumRhoda Dendron and the villainous Anna Matronic from Darkwing Duck have great names but very little screentime.

 

Loretta Callisto is the main character’s supportive and tech-savvy sister and Dr. Zephyr Skye is her storm-hunting and kick-butt role model (voiced by a real meteorologist) from Miles from Tomorrowland on Disney Jr. Hopefully these characters will inspire more young girls to want to be scientists!

 

Live Action

While there are a handful of females with doctorates in Disney live-action films, very few of them have prominent roles or rich back-stories and plots like their male counterparts. Some of the best representation actually comes from the Marvel movies and even then, the studios could do much better by giving these wonder women their own movies instead of relegating them to supporting roles.

Carina Smyth from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a very passionate and determined astronomer living in difficult times. Her wrongful conviction as a witch definitely is not so far off from shaming of women that still happens today.

 

Gabriella Montez from High School Musical also fits the stereotype of being ridiculed and being an outcast for being a math and science nerd but she doesn’t let silly boys stop her from pursuing her dreams of going to an amazing school and maintaining her passion for singing and competing in the science olympiad.

Dr. Sara Jean Reynolds in Flubber and Dr. Abigail Chase from National Treasure both serve primarily as the love interests in their respective movies but have also achieved a great deal of success in their fields as evidenced by their prominent positions. I would love to see spin-offs showing the adventures and challenges they overcame to get to where they are.

 

Marvel

Jane Foster is a well-known astrophysicist and is Thor’s main love interest. It was great to see Natalie Portman portray another powerful woman.

Maya Hansen from Iron Man 3 is a botanist who has a brief relationship with Tony Stark.

Betty Ross is a nuclear physicist in the Hulk comics and movie and will be making an appearance in the upcoming Infinity War movie.

 

Lastly, Leia Organa was not only a princess and general but also secretly a doctor, but more on that at another time.

Parks

Dr. Jaclyn Ogden is the primary expert on banshees on the planet Pandora and restarted the Avatar program so that guests can partake in a similar rite of passage as the Na’Vi. (I have a feeling she was named after the real life Jackie Ogden who is an experimental psychologist and director of animal programs for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts).

 

Mary Oceaneer is one of the few females in the fictional elite club, the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. She must know a fair bit about cartography, astronomy and the mechanics of captaining a ship and diving for treasure in order to be a successful treasure hunter. She inspired attractions on the Disney Cruise Line and at Typhoon Lagoon – a water park in Florida.

Doctor Marsh from DINOSAUR and the woman in Spaceship Earth are some of the only women of color in science in any Disney media and one of them doesn’t even talk. Perhaps now that Disney owns 20th Century Fox, the woman in Spaceship Earth can finally be tied to one of the awesome ladies of Hidden Figures and given a line.

 

To end on a positive note, women and girls visiting the parks can be inspired by real-life females in STEM by observing the hard-working women in Living with the Land or on the Behind the Seeds tour as well as in the light-hearted demonstrations of science principles in the SpectacuLab. Furthermore, Disney has highlighted several women in its Every Role a Starring Role and Disney Careers YouTube videos; check out my playlist of these women here.

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Are there any Disney women in STEM that you think deserve more recognition? Or what kind of women in STEM would you like to see represented in Disney media?