It began, as do many tales of travel, adventure, and triumph, with a librarian.
In June 2007, I was in Denver for the national meeting of the Special Librarians Association, to give a talk on my efforts using superhero comic books to teach physics. There I met a librarian from the National Academy of Sciences. Upon returning to DC, she passed my name along to Ann Merchant, who was in the early stages of setting up The Science & Entertainment Exchange program.
As teachers settle into a new school year, it seems a good time to provide some general tips and suggestions on how to make use of popular movies or television in the science classroom. Some of these ideas may be more appropriate for the high school setting, but I hope elementary and middle school teachers will also find some useful suggestions. I will use examples from Monsters vs. Aliens, which comes out on DVD today, September 29, to illustrate each suggestion.
With Julie and Julia being a surprise hit this summer, Julia Child has once again rocketed to the forefront of the national consciousness. Child is the iconic figure of popularizing haute cuisine, blazing a trail on television long before anyone dreamed up The Food Network or Top Chef, and publishing her bestselling classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961. Her entire kitchen is now on permanent display in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Popular science books have been around at least since the Middle Ages, when illustrated "bestiaries" were a big hit, highlighting the most bizarre creatures found in Nature. Many such books mixed reality with myth, but entomologist May Berenbaum, who also serves on the Exchange's advisory board.
Particle physics -- especially the research being done at CERN's Large Hadron Collider -- seems to have captured Hollywood's imagination these days. First, the collider was featured in director Ron Howard's Angels and Demons. And on Thursday, sci-fi novelist Robert J. Sawyer's novel Flash Forward makes its network debut on ABC. The novel starts out at CERN's LHC, and many of the central characters are physicists and engineers.
Well, The Science & Entertainment Exchange has been up and running for almost a year now. And so far, The Exchange has done a remarkable job of connecting the great minds of science with the great minds of TV and film! Of course, that “great minds of TV and film” list isn’t exactly phonebook length. So having pretty much exhausted that pool, The Exchange has now begun pairing brilliant scientists with the “reasonably competent” minds of TV and film, and will soon move on to the “mildly unstable” minds of TV and film. Or so they’ve promised me.
Is there a scientist in history more misunderstood in modern times than Charles Darwin? His seminal work, The Origin of Species, revolutionized the biological sciences and led to a tension between science and religion that still exists today. The story is ripe for the biopic treatment, and director Jon Amiel obliges with Creation, debuting tomorrow at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Now that the hype surrounding the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings has come and gone, we are faced with the grim reality that if we want to send humans back to the Moon the investment is likely to run in excess of $150 billion. The cost to get to Mars could easily be two to four times that, if it is possible at all.
Director Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi film, District 9, is getting rave reviews for its gritty, hard-edged depiction of a futuristic world where stranded aliens are being evicted from one dismal slum and forced to move to another -- when all they really want is to get the mother ship back up and running so they can return home. Among the the more useful alien technologies is an "energy weapon" based on a Tesla coil.