What Does ADAM In BioShock And Vaseline Have In Common?


Do these two stories sound familiar? In the 2007 sci-fi/horror first-person shooter BioShock, there’s a gene-warping drug called ADAM that’s extracted from bottom-feeding sea slugs. These creatures were discovered slithering around the underwater city of Rapture, a bizarre Art Deco metropolis founded by Ayn Rand-inspired corporatist Andrew Ryan.

Players learn about BioShock’s vision of the world in 1960 through “Audio Diaries.” Among the 122 total Auto Diaries you can find in the game, there are those that reveal the discovery of ADAM by geneticist (and World War II survivor) Brigid Tenenbaum. As a child, Tenenbaum was put to work in the Nazi prison camps assisting Josef Mengele and his cadre of mad scientists in their experimentations on Holocaust prisoners. It’s from this grisly origin that Tenenbaum developed her love for science, and he magnum opus of scientific achievement awaited her in Rapture.

The diary, “Finding the Sea Slug,” documents the following:

“I saw one of the smugglers having a game of catching on the docks today. And this surprised me, because his hands were crippled during the war. He was unloading the barge the other day when he was bitten from this Sea Slug. He woke up the next morning and he found he could move his fingers for the first time in years. I asked him if he still had that Sea Slug. As luck would have it, he did…”

A follow-up entry, “Adam Discovery,” elaborates further:

“This little Sea Slug has come along and glued together all the crazy ideas I’ve had since the war. It doesn’t just heal damaged cells. It… resurrects them. I can bend the double helix: black can be reborn white, tall, short, weak, strong. But the slugs alone are not enough. I’ll need money, and one other thing…”

Funny enough, there’s actual real-life counterpart to this work of interactive fiction — Vaseline. In 1859, an out-of-work English chemist named Robert Augustus Chesebrough traveled to Titusville, PA (certainly no Rapture, I’m sure) to give up science and becoming an oil tycoon. But when the 22-year-old visited one of the town’s oilfields, he stumbled upon another discovery.

As explained on the Damn Interesting website:

“[Chesebrough] spent his life savings on a ticket to Titusville, Pennsylvania to meet with the oil barons there. Upon touring the oil fields he noted a rigger scraping [up]thick, dark goo from an oil pump’s joint, and he asked about [it]. It was explained that the troublesome wax-like gunk tended to come up with the crude, and collect on the rigging; if [the substance]wasn’t cleaned off periodically, it would gum up the works. And some people thought that it helped wounds heal faster…”

Like Tenenbaum, Chesebrough experimented with a sample he took along with him; he dubbed it “rod wax.” It took 10 years of experimenting on the rod wax to clean, purify, and make the substance marketable. He even used himself in the name of science (and business) as a lab rat: he burned and cut himself to test the efficiency of the salve he cooked up. And after that decade of toiling away it all paid off, and Chesebrough came up with what we know today as “petroleum jelly,” the name-brand version being Vaseline.

Granted, Vaseline doesn’t modify your genes and gift you with superhuman abilities, but it does achieve it’s own small wonders in its own right. More so, they are both stories of accidental scientific discovery with huge ramifications, even if one is fiction and the other fact.

But you get the idea.


About Author

Steven Surman has been writing for over 10 years. His essays and articles have appeared in a variety of print and digital publications, including the Humanist, the Gay & Lesbian Review, and A&U magazine. His website and blog, Steven Surman Writes, collects his past and current nonfiction work. Steven’s a graduate of Bloomsburg University and the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and he currently works as the Content Marketing Manager for a New York City-based media company. His first book, Bigmart Confidential: Dispatches from America's Retail Empire, is a memoir detailing his time working at a big-box retailer. Please contact him at steven@stevensurman.com.

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