Anyone who has seen Netflix’s new hit show Stranger Things will know that the story involves a mysterious government facility, hidden in the woods in Hawkins, Indiana. All through season one, mention is made of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Hawkins National Laboratory, a sinister and secret establishment hidden in the forest.

While the Department of Energy does exist, and they do the odd fascinating experiment, the way they are depicted in the TV show isn’t quite right. Paul Lester, who works at the Energy Department, reportedly binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix recently and while he enjoyed the show, he thought it would be fun to put a few things right with the public.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

The series is set in a fictional 1980s town and in it a boy called Will Byers (Noah Schapp) mysteriously disappears. Will’s mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) is desperate to find her lost son and enlists the help of the local police chief, Jim Hopper (David Harbor). At the same time, a strange young girl named Eleven turns up and reveals amazing psychokinetic abilities to Will’s friends.

According to Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), she knows where Will is and that there is an alternate dimension called “The Upside Down” containing some horrible monsters, and that the Energy Department is involved in the whole thing, performing sinister experiments on children.

In a blog on the Department of Energy website, Lester writes that the show – with its amazing 80s music and vibe – was great, but said viewers mustn’t believe everything they hear in Stranger Things. The first thing to note is that Hawkins National Laboratory does not exist.

However, he did say there is one National Laboratory belonging to the Department of Energy with a forest connection. Argonne National Laboratory is located in Illinois and is reportedly named after the Argonne Forest within which it stands. However, there is nothing sinister about the work at the multidisciplinary science and engineering research center. They deal with the environment, energy, technology and national security issues.

The Department of Energy does not explore parallel universes

While in Stranger Things, researchers at Hawkins regularly wear protective gear to travel through a strange portal to an alternate dimension called “The Upside Down,” the Energy Department has yet to get involved in that kind of science. Lester says they do help to power exploration of new worlds, but on a more normal basis, as in outer space not alternate realities. He gave an example of nuclear batteries, which the department has made for NASA, used in the 1970s Viking Mission to Mars, the more recent Curiosity Mars Rover and the New Horizons mission to Pluto.

Reportedly the Energy Department also avoids messing with monsters. In the show, we get to meet the terrifying “demogorgon,” a monster that looks like a mash-up between a plant, a mushroom and some sort of creature. According to Lester, while the department doesn’t experiment with monsters, their scientists do create new technologies to prevent terrorists getting their hands on nuclear substances, including a mobile scanner for use on massive cargo containers in the world’s shipping ports.

Scientists are nice people

One thing Lester wished to stress was that, unlike Dr. Martin Brenner (played by Matthew Modine) in Stranger Things, their scientists are pretty nice people and among the most intelligent people in the world.

While Brenner had very sinister motives, the real scientists are working to solve the energy problems of the world. He also went on to point out that while his department does, indeed, work with electricity, there is no such thing as monster-activated Christmas lights, as seen by Will’s mother in the show when trying to communicate with him.

Rest assured that the Department of Energy is working for good and Stranger Things, while an amazing story and show, is pure fiction. Now we just have to wait for upcoming season 2.

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