Netflix’s new sci-fi series Stranger Things has gripped people everywhere, from comic book nerds to those who yearn to go back to the 1980s. If this is the first time you have heard of the show, welcome back from your recent trip to Pluto.
Stranger Things, set in 1983, takes place in the fictional town of Hawkins, Ind. It follows the family and friends of Will Byers, a young boy who mysteriously vanishes one night after a heated game of Dungeons and Dragons. As Will’s friends and family members launch a frenzied search for him, their investigation leads them to the nearby Department of Energy (DOE) facility. In Stranger Things, DOE is the villain. The scientists who work there are responsible for unleashing a body-snatching monster, opening a portal to a dangerous dimension, and running disturbing experiments on kids.
At first, DOE seems like a surprising choice for an enemy. The people who use X-rays to fight Zika and look for innovative ways to fuel cars hardly seem capable of harming kids and covering up missing persons. However, the show forces the viewer to wonder what goes on in DOE facilities.
Paul Lester, digital content specialist of DOE’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA), recently wrote a post clearing up some of these questions. According to Lester, who binge-watched all eight episodes of the first season in a weekend, the show’s depiction of DOE is inaccurate.
His first point is that the Hawkins National Laboratory, like the fictional town of Hawkins, does not exist. In Stranger Things, Will’s 12-year-old friends sneak out at night to investigate the lab, which is buried in the woods, displaying courage that most adults do not possess. While the Hawkins Lab is not real, Lester said that the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Ill., resembles the fictional lab in that it is also located in a forest. The Argonne Lab was built in 1946 in order to continue Enrico Fermi’s work on nuclear reactors.
While DOE scientists in the show explore parallel universes with toxic atmospheres, Lester stated that the only new worlds the agency studies are those in space. According to his post, DOE makes nuclear batteries called Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators for NASA, which are used to power deep space flights. Lester also stated that the agency has no experience with hulking monsters such as the one seen in Stranger Things.
“We don’t mess with monsters, but the Energy Department is in the business of detecting invisible dangers,” Lester wrote in his website post. “Energy Department scientists throughout the country create new technologies that help prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear materials.”
In the show, the lead DOE scientist, Dr. Martin Brenner, is the mastermind of danger and deception. In his post, Lester assured readers that DOE scientists are not only brilliant, but kind. He also mentioned that many more of them are women than are portrayed in the show. This may not be surprising, because the show took place in the early 1980s.
“Actual National Laboratory scientists are among the brightest people in the world, working hard to solve the nation’s toughest energy problems,” Lester wrote. “And not all of them are men!”