Comic-Con 2009: Science As a Double-Edged Sword

It's that summery time of year, when the sun is shining, vacations are pending, and over 125,000 science fiction fans are gathering in San Diego for the annual Comic-Con extravaganza. The Science and Entertainment Exchange will be there, too: we are partnering with Discover magazine on a Thursday evening panel, July 22, from 6 to 7 PM, on the science behind science fiction.

The Science of Storytelling

Everyone loves a gripping story, and anything involving family secrets seems to have particular power. The Star Warsseries was hugely popular not just for its eye-popping special effects and epic mythology, but also for its tangled familial relationships. Darth Vader is Luke's father? Leia is his sister? It's positively Dickensian in its intricate genealogical scope.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

To two neighborhoods, actually. One is Los Angeles, where the Science & Entertainment Exchange has recently set up shop, and which the Norman Lear Center, which I direct, also calls home.

The other ‘hood is more metaphorical. The Exchange is in Westwood, located at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute; the Lear Center, based at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, is housed in Beverly Hills. But both of us are also in Hollywood, an industry that permeates the region, both literally and virtually.

In particular, both the Exchange and Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a Lear Center project on which I’m the principal investigator, have a shared mission: improving the accuracy of the scientific information depicted in entertainment.

Model Transformers

Variety and oi9 have both posted articles in the last few days about the unique relationship between the film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the U.S. Armed Forces.

Ah Yes, We Remember It Well...

Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that the Science and Entertainment Exchange officially launched with an exclusive, invitation-only symposium at the Creative Artists Agency. But it was actually last November when over 300 writers, directors, producers, production designers, and executives, along with scientists, engineers and health professionals, convened to hear about the latest cutting-edge research in rare and infectious diseases, climate change, cosmology and astronomy, genomics, brain and mind (neuroscience), and robotics/artificial intelligence.

Updating Those Classic Science Fiction Films

Hi everybody. This is my first posting here, and I’m excited to write about science in film, a topic important for both scientists and film people. I’m a physicist who’s also a lifelong science fiction and movie fan. That helped when I wrote a book about science in film called Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, & the End of the World. In the process I watched a lot of films and that has given me plenty to write about. 

Goodnight Moon

Last week saw the release of the science fiction/thriller, Moon, starring Sam Rockwell as an astronaut named Sam Bell, who is wrapping up a three-year stint at a mining base on the moon operated by the fictional Lunar Industries. His only companion is a robot named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), whose facial "expressions" consist of emoticons displayed on a screen. Three weeks before he is scheduled to return home to his wife and three-year-old daughter, Sam discovers that everything at his cozy lunar base is not what it appears to be. Or is the isolation finally messing with his sanity?

Poetry in Motion

What do Happy Feet, Polar Express, the Lord of the Ringstrilogy, Beowulf, and The Strange Case of Benjamin Button have in common? They are all films that employ the latest advances in motion capture technology -- or rather, what was cutting-edge in motion capture back in 2007, when those films were first being made. Scientists continue to come up with breakthrough technologies to make Hollywood's special effects even more magically convincing.

Ripped From the Headlines! (Of Scientific Journals)

There’s one scientific question that rivals all others. Okay, it may be more a philosophical dilemma than a scientific one, but it has kept scientists and thinkers, the world round, busy for millennia. Apparently, it pits Stephen Hawking against Aristotle, if you believe Wikipedia. To know the answer would be to understand existence. I am talking, of course, about the question of the chicken and the egg. Which came first?

The Science of the Hangover

Ah, the hangover. Most of us have had one of these at one time or another after sucking down one too many at a bar or party. But what is this miserable reminder of the dangers of excess and what might we do (besides the most obvious solution: easing up on the sauce) to avoid this unfortunate consequence? With The Hangover’s strong showing at the box office over the weekend, we thought it might be an interesting to look at the science of the hangover.