With the recent release of the blockbuster Dune part two adaptation, audiences are once again finding themselves captivated by the mystical universe Frank Herbert created in 1965. The story of Dune takes place on Arrakis, a planet with an incredibly hostile desert environment. Life on Arrakis is difficult and survival and technological innovation go together hand in hand. From stillsuits to ornithopters there is a wide array of technology used throughout the books and movies, so today let’s shed some light onto the physics and feasibility of some of the technological possibilities that blur the lines between fact and fiction seen in Dune.


Stillsuits are possibly the most iconic piece of technology seen in the Dune series. They are perfectly designed to prevent all moisture leaving the body through sweat, respiration etc. being lost to the unforgiving arid environment of Arrakis with the water then being recycled for future use. 

For real world application a stillsuit would need to have the ability to manage heat and the ability to filter water. The outer layer of the stillsuit would need to be made of a material that reflects sunlight in order to minimise heat absorption and the inner layers would need to be a heat sink in order for the evaporated water to be able to condense into liquid water ready for filtration. 

Technologies suitable for these purposes do exist, for example the ISS has a water recycling system able to reclaim 98% of water lost to waste. There would, however, be issues with the practicality of a stillsuit in real life. The ISS filtration system would obviously be far too large to fit conveniently into a piece of clothing so the efficiency and compactness of such technology would need to be massively improved before reaching a stage where it can be used for such a purpose effectively. Advancements in nanotechnology may help with the water containment and heat minimisation problem. 


Ornithopters are the main method of transportation on the surface of Arrakis. They are aircraft with their design based on the flight of birds, utilising flapping wings as a means of propulsion, which allow them to be agile and quick in the extreme weather conditions of the desert planet.

While the idea of an aircraft with flapping wings is intriguing and would make the act of flight more of a spectacle than it is today, there are unfortunately drawbacks to such a method of travel. The flapping of wings would likely consume more energy than is required for standard steady state propulsion seen in real life planes or helicopters. The materials necessary would have to be incredibly lightweight and durable relative to those used in aircraft now in order to reduce the energy needs. The aerodynamics and the control system for such a craft would also be very complex with the craft not only seeming unfeasible in terms of it’s design but also obsolete as we already have fairly efficient aircraft able to perform the same tasks in similar environments on Earth as the ornithopters used in Dune 

Holtzman shield

The third and final piece of technology we’ll be looking at today is the Holtzman shield. These shields work based on an imaginary physical phenomenon known as the Holtzman effect. This describes the repellant forces experienced by subatomic particles. In the Dune universe this allowed for the design of shields that allow slow moving objects such as knives or swords to pass through but repel fast moving projectiles such as bullets. 

Shields such as the ones described may eventually be possible through very sophisticated applications of electromagnetic fields, though this application may be beyond the realms of feasibility. The shields would require massive amounts of energy and very precise manipulation of the electromagnetic fields. The shield would also need an accurate way of being able to measure the speed of the projectiles which could impose significant hurdles on its development. There is also the issue of the shields being impractical as they seemingly allow visible light to pass through, meaning someone using the shield may be vulnerable to laser attacks. 

Overall, Dune offers an interesting insight into the potential future of technology and serves as a thought provoking example of how ideas from science fiction can be applied in reality, though much of the necessary physics is yet to be realised and requires more research before science fiction can become science fact.

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