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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

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Move Over, Wilbur. Guess Who’s Spinning Spider Silk?

In the well-loved children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, people are amazed by a web-spinning pig (well-worded webs, at that). It’s all a hoax though, as the pig (Wilbur) is in cahoots with a spider (Charlotte), but here in the real world, a web-spinning pig might not be impossible. Silkworms have already been genetically modified to spin spider silk, but that is so 2010. In 2011, Utah State University researcher Randy Lewis made headlines with spider silk–producing goats. Yes, goats.

Getting the Glow

Alex Mack received her super powers through a chemical spill.The 1990s are back – at least, on television. TeenNick announced earlier this year that it would begin airing a retro block of 90s Nickelodeon shows such as All That, Clarissa Explains It All, Rugrats, and Pete & Pete. If you do not see your favorite 90s program on the lineup, do not despair – TeenNick hopes to rearrange the block to showcase other 90s series. That means if you were a fan of the science-fiction series The Secret World of Alex Mack, there is hope!

Intel Inspires Sci-fi Writers with “The Tomorrow Project”

Real science inspires science-fiction, and while we see this often in the consultations we provide, we have another great non-entertainment industry example for you. Last year, Intel Corporation’s The Tomorrow Project introduced four science-fiction writers to the latest research in photonics, robotics, telematics, dynamic physical rendering and intelligent sensors. Then, the writers let their imaginations run wild. The end results are four short science-fiction stories that imagine a future where this latest research is the old research. 

You Lying Liar: Can You Beat a Polygraph Test?

A spike in blood pressure, a quickening in breathing, a rise in the electrical conductivity of skin…. These are the signs of a liar, at least, according to a polygraph test. But what if you were telling the truth? 

Science Online Film Festival

Take apart a copier. Win a prize. Okay, that isn’t exactly how it works but that is how Bill Hammack, the “Engineer Guy,” won the first film festival at the Science Online conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Carin Bondar and Joanne Manaster hosted the festival, narrowing down the entries to 12 videos, which were then voted on by viewers. 

Villain Science: Bane

In the DC Comics universe, he is known as the “The Man Who Broke the Bat,” and in the recently released teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, Bane appears to be up to his old, violent tricks. The popular villain’s exact role in the film is a highly guarded secret but the first official image of the character (plus the teaser trailer) show Bane with his trademark Venom-injecting mask, meaning the fictional drug will likely be in the film as well. 

In Reality and Fiction, Greed Is Good

It is one of the seven deadly sins but, as Gordon Gekko says, greed is good. Researchers in Switzerland recently found a moderate level of greed is favorable for society – or at least, the researchers’ model society.

Common wisdom leads us to believe greed is bad, that self-interest does not work for the greater good of a society or group. In fact, that is exactly what game theory tells us. In a public goods game, where optional contribution to the common good improves the well-being of participants, greed is problematic. Game theory predicts a free-loader problem where participants stop contributing because they will reap the rewards through others’ contributions. The outcome is known as the tragedy of commons: eventually, no one contributes. 

The Bone Detective

If you are a fan of the television shows Bones, you are probably aware of the fascinating process of identifying people through skeletal remains – or, at least, the fictional process. Bones takes leaps and bounds with its technology, and sometimes science, which helps the forensics team solve mysteries in a matter of 60 minutes. What you might not know is that real-life forensic anthropology is just as fascinating as the fictional version – even without the shiny, speedy technology. 

Why So Blue?

Have you ever wondered why so many characters in television and film are blue? Not blue as in sad, but blue as in color. From The Smurfs to Avatar, blue is the popular choice for an alternative skin color. As it turns out, there is a way for human skin to turn blue!

A condition caused by high exposure to chemical forms of silver, known an argyria, can change the color of skin from a normal color to a blue or bluish-grey color! If you inhale or ingest enough silver, the element accumulates in the body over time. When exposed to sunlight, the particles under the skin darken, which turns the skin a bluish hue. Argyria is not life-threatening, but still, you probably do not want to ingest that much silver. A man in California gradually turned blue after drinking gallons of colloidal silver per week for years – that’s commitment. 

The Final Frontier

More than four decades have passed since a human first set foot on the Moon.Last Thursday, the space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth and NASA’s Space Shuttle Program officially closed its doors. A sad day, for sure, but over here at The Exchange, we plan on passing the time between now and private spaceflights by heading to the movies for some fictional space exploration. Except, well, we noticed there are not very many upcoming space exploration films. Is Hollywood finished exploring the “final frontier”?