Skeletons and Star Wars

As a part of the recent Manchester Science Festival (Oct 24th – Nov 3rd) I gave a talk at the Science Showoff event.

The event is a well-oiled machine that was making its first appearance in the North West and as a result I signed up straight away (even though all I have ever wanted to do was attend one, not necessarily present at one). I am no stranger to science communication, however I was a stranger to doing it in a less than serious environment (there were jokes… and drinking… and singing…)! It hardly seems right (except now everything else seems entirely wrong).

I decided that since my own research can make for some really uncomfortable conversations with people (while I and my colleagues can laugh at jokes about diseases that killed millions of people – and statistics – I know that it’s not everyone’s cuppa)*. Instead, I decided to go with the lighter (sabre) subject matter of skeletons and Star Wars. I chose this because 1) everyone loves some good facts – and the skeleton does not disappoint in this, and 2) Star Wars is awesome.

SkelliesAndStarWars

The promo for my bit was: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away a scientist who studied skeletons realised it was possible to answer the most important question of all time: If R2-D2 wore shoes, what size would they be?”

Because I am making an effort to write more things that aren’t my thesis (probably much to the chagrin of my supervisor) I thought it might be nice to use some of the talk I gave to make a poorly illustrated blogpost (see what I did there @alicebell, eh?).

I have every intention of going through and adding some fun science-y hyperlinks to papers/articles that have further reading when I have a bit more time, but until then you’ll just have to be patient or post specific queries for me in the comments (although hopefully not for me to defend myself and my crazy claims, as please keep in mind this talk was for non-specialists and for funsies).

Along similar lines, the photos in the post aren’t currently credited because I ripped most of them from movie stills or advertising material, which isn’t cool, so I’ll try to do something about that… also, if they look a lot like PowerPoint slides, it’s because they are, because I’m dead lazy.

Hidoe! Meesa going to write my whole bloggapost like this… yah?

Aha ha, no. I’m just kidding. Oh, Jar Jar Binks, the most misunderstood character of the Star Wars universe.

For those of you who are new to the blog, I am a human osteologist. Or to be clear, given the subject of this post, a human, human osteologist. If you finish this post until the end not only should you be given an award, but you’ll also get a very brief glimpse into the two worlds that I love most, skeletons and geekery, as represented here by Star Wars.

Hoomin

There are some remarkable facts about the way the human skeleton develops that allow us after death, to determine (or to be more accurate, estimate) someone’s sex, age, potential ancestry, and so on and so forth. You’ve all seen CSI. As an aside, oh my goodness, how awesome would a CSI: Star Wars be? I can just imagine the first episode opening on the scene of a murder in the Mos Eisley canteena.

I want to tell you a little bit more about just one of the methods we use to investigate this sort of thing in the labs – coincidentally, the one that I will be using to get a job in a fairground, once I finish my PhD. And on that happy note…

This is now a weird mash-up of audience/reader participation. So if you would, in the chart below, please identify your shoe size (UK) in the correct column for your sex. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to follow across to an estimated foot length and… voila! your height (plus or minus a bit).

MALES

 

FEMALES

SHOE SIZE

FOOT LENGTH

HEIGHT (cm)

HEIGHT (ft / in)

 

SHOE SIZE

FOOT LENGTH

HEIGHT (cm)

HEIGHT (ft / in)

5.5

23.5

153

5’0”

 

2

21.5

140

4’7”

6

24

156

5’1”

 

2.5

22

143

4’8”

6.5

24.5

160

5’2”

 

3

22.5

147

4’9”

7

25

163

5’4”

 

3.5

23

150

4’11”

7.5

26

169

5’6”

 

4

23

150

4’11”

8

26.5

173

5’8”

 

4.5

23.5

153

5’0”

8.5

27

176

5’9”

 

5

24

156

5’1”

9

27.5

179

5’10”

 

5.5

24

156

5’1”

9.5

28

183

6’0”

 

6

24.5

160

5’2”

10

28.5

186

6’1”

 

6.5

25

163

5’4”

10.5

29

189

6’2”

 

7

25.5

166

5’5”

11

29.5

192

6’3”

 

7.5

26

169

5’6”

11.5

30

196

6’5”

 

8

26.5

173

5’8”

12

30.5

199

6’6”

 

8.5

27

176

5’9”

12.5

31

202

6’7”

 

9

27.5

179

5’10”

13

31.5

205

6’8”

 

9.5

28

183

6’0”

13.5

32

209

6’10”

 

10

28.5

186

6’1”

14

32.5

212

6’11”

 

10.5

29

189

6’2”

14.5

33

215

7’0”

 

11

29.5

192

6’3”

15

33.5

219

7’2”

 

11.5

30

196

6’5”

15.5

34

222

7’3”

 

12

30.5

199

6’6”

Sorry, I’m not sure why my table formatting refuses to stick.

Oh and if you’re a man with big feet insert this joke here: You know what they say about men with big feet. They are generally located within the lower left hand quadrant of my equation results chart… *BADUMTISH*

Now for those of you for whom this worked, no, it’s not the force. And, I know, I know, it is a relatively small sample size (one), but try this with your friends, co-workers, family, even strangers on the street! I assure you this is science. Actual factual science. Done right here (or rather, there, wherever you are) before your very eyes.

Now for those of you for whom this hasn’t worked, you can blame the darkside**. It often ensures that in this universe shoe sizes aren’t standard for some unknown and yet probably ridiculous reason. Therefore depending on who made your shoes, the actual measurement of your foot length may not associate the shoe sizes on the chart above. Oh and we’ll get to you rebels (or galactic imperialists) of unproportional foot size in a bit.

The equation that I have been working from is based on the fact that the length of certain bones in your feet (the metatarsals) is directly correlated to your overall height. Now, the chart above asks after shoe size, because unsurprisingly, more people know this than the length of their metatarsals. I know, right? Shocking! The results would be more precise and more robust if we could access those specific bones on their own, because there is a pesky problem with feet. That is one of toes.

Toes

However, this problem with toes can also be seen with fingers, which are better known as the toes of the hand. It also avoids you all taking off our shoes and ruining the ambience in your office or wherever (it would make things in the next few minutes super difficult unless you’re in Cirque du Soleil… you’ll see). So for the purposes of this next bit, if you can just pretend your hand is a foot, your fingers are toes, and your metacarpals are the metatarsals – and the same correlation to height exists. Got it? Good.

Now if you’d like to do some of this science stuff (not required but recommended) please find someone, ask how tall they are, and then hold your hands up to each other and compare their size (you may want to explain why first, otherwise they might get weirded out).

If you do this (or have ever done it in the past or plan to do it in the future), you may not find what you expected. Often you’ll find that someone’s hand size can seem totally out of proportion for their height. But don’t go thinking that the methods are flawed! Well, actually, they are… but only because you’re alive and fleshed. So really, it’s your fault.

Outliers

But, if you compare your hands again, but this time don’t just look at the overall size, but the separate elements of the palm and the fingers. You should see that that your palms are different sizes, relative to your height, but the fingers can vary significantly.

Mine are a great example. Tiny hands like a Jawwa. Super long fingers, like a Wookiee! I was nicknamed ET at school (although… thinking back on this now, maybe that was just because the other kids wanted me to go home…). 😦

This is because (as far as we currently understand it) the development of fingers, and toes, is influenced more than some other aspects of the skeleton by environmental factors such as hormones in the womb, etc (many of you will have heard about digit ratios and testosterone, which is a favourite in the flashy science stories).

So while the counterpart to the metatarsals in the foot, the metacarpals in the hand, are also proportional to your height, because fingers make up a larger proportion of the hand, this digit difference is more noticeable. This is why you can have two people of the same height with very different hand sizes or indeed, people of very different heights with the same hand sizes. The same goes for feet, but the differences are less pronounced (because toes make up a lower proportion of the foot). So for those of you with what appear to be freakishly alien sized hands or feet – be it small or large – you’re actually completely normal (I mean, as far as I know in terms of what this blogpost is covering).

TheForce

But, even ignoring that variation, for the most part, this equation will work. For those of you now wondering, the equation is incredibly simple and it is that the length of your entire ‘living’ foot is approximately 15% of your overall height. And so now, with that in mind, let’s have a little look at how this relates to some of the biggest and smallest characters of the Star Wars universe, just for giggles.

So, starting with one of the biggest and most loveable and I imagine one of the most huggable characters, we’ve got Chewbacca. Now, this is my only departure from the actual Star Wars universe to the actor who played him in the films, Peter Mayhew – who wears a size 15 shoe, however taking into account Chewies fuzzy boots, let’s put him at about a size 16. This works out to be approximately 34.5cm long, therefore working out to be 225cm tall, so we’re looking at 7’4”. Which is about right, because I checked Wookieepedia which confirmed our dear Chewie is 228cm or 7’5” tall. Ah, science!

Chewie

Moving from one of the biggest to one of the smallest, we can now work out Yoda’s height, based on the newly created Chewie scale, which over half a metre tall makes him just. And the little master didn’t wear shoes, so we’ll leave it there.

Yoda

Now, it can be said that the antithesis to Yoda is Darth Vader, who let me tell you, appears to have been compensating for something. Now Anakin Skywalker was about 188cm, which works out to about a size 10/10.5 shoe. But yet <spoiler alert> as Vader, in all his armour slash massive portable life support system, put him at about 202cm, making it appear that he wore size 12.5 shoes. So you know… that. And uhh… also, the whole Deathstar thing. <cough>

Darth

Despite their lousy aim, Vader would have been lost without his soldiers, the stormtroopers. They weren’t a standard height, because they were all humans – who we know vary in height  were all a standard height bacause they were clones [duhhh, how could I have missed this] and we can assume that they were noticeably taller than 173cm or 5’8”, because when Han and Luke rescue Leia, she tells us that Luke is a little bit short for a stormtrooper and based on the Chewie scale, he’s only 172cm. And their shoes? Not even really shoes, more like naff slippers.

Stormtroopers

Speaking of stormtroopers, we all know, the Battle of Endor would have gone very differently without the Ewoks there to fight them. And with them being an average of 100cm tall. How deadly and adorable is that? However, I haven’t got the time (or the inclination) to go on about the socio-cultural practices of Ewok footwear though, so moooving on.

Ewoks

The Ewoks also made quite a friend of C-3PO, who is surprisingly rather a great deal shorter than I had anticipated, at only 167cm, or about 5’5”. He also has built in shoes, which is rather handy, as obviously these were perfectly to proportion at a size 7.5.

C3PO

And this is where I bring my post to an end (because this is where my talk ended, literally… I ran out of time) with C-3PO’s counterpart, my dear little R2-D2. Arguably the best character in all of Star Wars (although it seems Twitter would argue Han Solo). While less than a metre tall, Artoo was a formidable droid. Now you might wonder, why would Artoo need shoes?

R2Han

Why wouldn’t he? I ask you. If Artoo wore shoes, to protect his remarkable little legs, all three of them, they would be a diminutive size of 7.5… children’s.

And they would clearly, look like this.

R2D2

That is all.

JarJar

*I have decided in the future to do more science communication stuff focused on my own doctoral research, since some people have recently expressed an opinion that suggests it might actually be interesting to people that aren’t me… I know, I’m as shocked as you!

**Another reason is that for taller people the equation that I’ve used goes a bit screwy (scientific term) because of some biological reasons that I may or may not go into later (but if you’re interested let me know).

[If you’ve enjoyed this post, let me know – maybe I’ll do more. If you didn’t enjoy this post, you can let me know too – but please let me know why!]

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4 responses to “Skeletons and Star Wars

    • An anamoly indeed! Yes, it is true that it doesn’t always work – for what reasons the anatomy of those people differs I don’t think anyone can say for sure (although I am sure there are papers on it). I have friends for whom this equation doesn’t work either. But more often than not it will give a good result (give or take). I wonder what would happen if we had access to their metatarsals though? Perhaps the length is being lost in another part of the foot anatomy!

  1. Pingback: Best of 2013 (exhibitions, news, blogs) | Bodies and academia·

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