Halloween science: Frankenweenie special...

Halloween science: Frankenweenie special...

Creepy science! Could you really bring your favourite pet back to life with electricity?

Just in time for Halloween quirky director Tim Burton has unleashed Frankenweenie, his latest spectacular movie about a young boy named Victor and his beloved dog Sparky.

When Sparky meets his untimely end, a heartbroken Victor decides that instead of saying goodbye he will try to bring his pet back from beyond the grave.  But could it be done?

Let's look at the story and the science behind it.  After reading this, you could even have a go at making your own battery using a potato or a lemon.  We don't advise you to try to bring anything back to life with it though - urgh!

Frankenweenie is a spooky children's story, filmed using incredible stop-motion animation.  This type of film making involves taking tens of thousands of photos of models, moving them very slightly each time. When the pictures are played one after the other then the characters are brought to life.

Stop motion has been used for monster movies for years - watch the original King Kong to see an early example which mixed stop motion and live action.  Tim Burton has used it before in two other Halloween movies, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride.

Frankenstein's Monster - the story

"Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive... It's alive, it's moving,
it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!"


Boris Karloff stars as the monster in the 1931 film Frankenstein.

The story of Dr Frankenstein and his infamous monster was created by Mary Shelley way back in 1818 (they might not have had horror movies in those days, but they loved horror stories).

In the gothic tale, the brilliant scientist Dr Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with the idea of using electricity to bring creatures back to life.  Unfortunately, when he does manage it the results are disastrous as the monster runs out of control.


Colin Clive and Dwight Frye in the 1931 film Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is one of the original monsters, and is still one of the favourite costumes for "trick or treaters" around the world...

Frankstein's Monster - the science

Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein by two real scientific discoveries:

  1. On 26 January, 1781, Italian surgeon Luigi Galvani discovered that electricity made muscles spasm.  In true Halloween style he found this out while dissecting a frog in his laboratory with the help of his assistant.

    Electricity from a nearby machine travelled down the scalpel and made the frog's muscles jerk, although at the time Galvani thought that the frog itself was generating the electric charge.

  2. 18 years later, in 1799, a physicist called Alessandro Volta invented the world's first battery and used it to repeat Galvani's experiments.  He proved that electricity from outside the dead frog was making it jump and dance like it was alive.

In the next few years scientists conducted more and more ghoulish experiments, even using electrical power to make the bodies of executed criminals jump, twitch and quiver.  Who needs Halloween horror films!


All of these ideas and experiments came together in Mary Shelley's famous book in which a deranged scientist manage not just to make a dead body jerk around, but to actually bring it back to life...

So what's happening?

Put simply, while we are alive (whether we are frogs or humans) we move when our nervous system sends an electrical signal to our muscles.

The electrical signal travels through our nerves and makes the muscle contract which moves our skeleton. You see, learning about the way that our body works isn't just a matter of biology. The physics of electricity is important too...

In the real life experiments of Volta and Galvani, sending an electrical signal into the body of a dead frog bypassed the brain and sent a signal through the nerves to the muscles, with the same effect.

Unlike the story of Frakenstein's monster, or Frankenweenie for that matter, it doesn't matter how much electricity you put into a corpse - you will never get the brain working again. Without an internal power source the body can't send it's own signals when something touches it.

Sadly, or maybe we should say thankfully, Mary Shelley's and Tim Burton's Halloween frights are definitely science fiction, not science fact!

Find out more about the nervous system and the part that electricity plays by clicking here or completing this Nervous System activity at BBC Bitesize.



Why not play Dr Frankenstein and generate your own electricity using nothing but a lemon, potato or carrot.  Watch the video from Monkey See below and visit our experiments section to find out more...