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Science of TRON

Listen to audio from the "Science of TRON" panel, featuring director Joe Kosinski, producer Sean Bailey, and science consultants Sean Carroll & John Dick. Learn More

The Exchange

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Featured Entertainer: Jerry Zucker

The Exchange is celebrating its third anniversary this month, and to commemorate the occasion (and more than 350 consults!), we will be featuring interviews with the people who made the program possible. This week, Jerry Zucker (director, producer, and Advisory Board Vice-Chair for The Exchange) shares his thoughts on The Exchange’s success, plus why he finds science fascinating and his words of wisdom to aspiring filmmakers and scientists. (Not to mention, a good dose of his trademark humor!) 

Featured Entertainer: Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson finds inspiration on the open road. The screenwriter drives at night to spark his imagination, and with the screenplays "Hard Candy" and "Devil" under his belt, you have to wonder what other ideas come to him during drives in the dark. Nelson recently let us in on his current project (inspired by a drive at night, perhaps?), plus his thoughts on science advising for screenwriters and the common ground between science and entertainment.

Tell us about your background. What sparked your interest in screenwriting?

Scientist Spotlight: Donna Nelson

There is an important message behind the story of how Donna Nelson, a professor of chemistry at the University of Oklahoma, became the science adviser for Breaking Bad: do not ever think your volunteering will not make a difference. After a plea for assistance from the producer of Breaking Bad appeared in Chemical & Engineering News, Nelson decided to volunteer in the hope of showing more accurate science on television. She became the lone volunteer out of the magazine’s 165,000 subscribers.

Featured Entertainer: Valerie Weiss

Today’s Featured Entertainer, director Valerie Weiss, could also be a Featured Scientist. Weiss’s passion for both science and filmmaking started in high school, eventually leading to a Ph.D. in Biophysics and an award-winning sci-fi short. Weiss also founded the Dudley Film Program at Harvard University and served as its first Filmmaker-in-Residence.

Scientist Spotlight: Randii Wessen

Normally, asking a person, “Why would aliens want to attack Earth?” would result in a bumbling, confused answer. But pose the same question to Randii Wessen, Deputy Manager of the Project Formulation Office at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and you will receive a precise answer: aliens would not bother to attack our puny planet. True, as a consultant for The Exchange, Wessen has had some practice answering that question, but the point is he has taken the time to form a rational answer.

Featured Entertainers: Glen Whitman & Rob Chiappetta

To be clear, Glen Whitman and Rob Chiappetta, executive story editors on the hit Fox series Fringe want viewers to know not all of the science on Fringe is accurate. But it is as accurate and grounded in reality as it can be for a show that takes on parallel universes, mind control, and super-sized viruses. The series depicts science by imagining how far it can go, which has called for a few science consultants from The Exchange.

Scientist Spotlight: Stuart Sumida

Stuart Sumida’s career is one wild ride – literally. The paleontologist and animal anatomy consultant for animated films helped design a scary Yeti for the Expedition Everest attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. How did Sumida go from professor of paleontology to adviser for The Lion King, How to Train Your Dragon, and other animated flicks?

Featured Entertainer: Sarah Newman

Sarah Newman knows how lucky she is to spend her workdays talking to experts in pandemics, nuclear security, and other topics. As the Research Manager at Participant Media she works to develop companion campaigns to films with important topics, such as Contagion and infectious disease. We caught up with Newman recently to ask her a few questions about her role at Participant, how films can get people engaged in science, and what science topic she wants to see more of in film and television.

Scientist Spotlight: Gerry Griffin

Gerry Griffin is not only a pioneer in human space flight, he is also an actor. The former director of the NASA-Johnson Space Center in Houston starred in both Contact and Deep Impact as a mission control team member. Off-screen, Griffin starred as the technical advisor for both films, not to mention his work on Apollo 13 and the recently released science-fiction thriller Apollo 18.