0622ctt Oceans 8 copy

[image] Screenshot from Ocean’s 8 YouTube trailer shows a multimillion-dollar necklace being scanned to create an additive manufacturing file. 

Here in the United States, it’s summer movie blockbuster season. It’s the time of year for superheroes, over-the-top special effects flicks, and of course, sequels.

Sequels are risky—sometimes they work, sometimes not so much. The trick is to tell a new story without wandering too far from what made the original so satisfying.

I love caper movies, so I had high hopes for Ocean’s 8, the fourth episode in the heist genre that began with Ocean’s 11 starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and a bunch of other guys. The franchise expanded to Ocean’s 12 and Ocean’s 13, which were fine as sequels, but by Ocean’s 13, the storyline was getting tired.

What to do to keep the story going? The studio had a brilliant idea—tell a new version of the story with women pulling off the heist. The leader of the gang is Debbie Ocean, sister of the late Danny Ocean. 

Unfortunately, the studio missed their own point. Instead of crafting a story of how women would plan a heist from a feminine perspective, the movie tells the same story with the same characters played by women instead of men. The main expression of femininity in the movie is that the characters get to wear evening gowns while pulling off the heist.

This would be like coming to the lab with dangling jewels, up-dos, and perfect makeup. Women—and men—have worked for years to break the view of women in technical professions not as women in men’s roles but women in science and engineering roles. We bring our intelligence, training, and talent, but also the feminine aspects of our nature—such as creativity, relationship building, planning, etc., and balance work against the challenges of home life. (Yes, men have these characteristics, too, and we still have plenty of work to eliminate gender bias. I’m thinking in broad strokes, here.)

While I enjoyed the glamour and intrigue, I would have liked to see how women approach the problem differently from men. For example, the characters all seemed to be motivated by greed or revenge. I’m not so sure that rings true. Do high-stakes criminals struggle with work-life balance? And, I felt the movie left us wanting in terms of the relationships, both “professional” and personal, that hold this merry band together. 

But the movie commits a major materials science error. Part of the fun with caper movies is the pseudo-technology employed. In a movie like this, we know from the start that we’re going to have to suspend our disbelief.

But, readers, there’s a limit!

Debbie Ocean’s gang plans to steal a nearly priceless diamond necklace during a swanky charity ball. It can’t just go missing; it needs to be replaced with a fake. The solution is to make the fake with additive manufacturing. You and I know you can’t make single-crystal quality objects by additive manufacturing, at least not yet. I was willing to go along with this for the sake of the story.

But, I nearly jumped out of my seat when Debbie asks Lou, the “Brad Pitt” sidekick, what it is and Lou says “zirconium.” Debbie asks for confirmation, and Lou nods her head and with knowing emphasis says, “Yes, zirconium.”

Which is proof enough for me that we need more materials scientists in the world that know what ceramics are—and the difference between zirconium and zirconia and cubic zirconia.

Women and men.

Zirconium metal (left) looks really different from cubic zirconia (right). Credits: Zr by Gregory Phillips – English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0; c-ZrO2 by By Alchemist-hp (pse-mendelejew.de).