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Science of TRON

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Science in TV/Film

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Star Wars, Star Trek, Scientists, and Science

We have heard it time and time again, scientists and engineers everywhere, professing deep love and admiration for science fiction, and in particular, a fondness for Star Wars and Star Trek. In an unofficial (and totally unscientific) polling of The Exchange’s Scientist Spotlight interviewees, Star Wars ranked #1 in stealing the hearts (and creative minds) of scientists. (Star Trek ranked #2, with 2001: A Space Odyssey in the #3 spot.) “What we hear from a lot of the scientists we talk to is that science fiction was part of their inspiration when they were kids,” explained Glen Whitman, an executive story editor for Fringe.

Look No Further Than Cable Television to Get Your Fix of Science & Entertainment

Back in May, the New York Times touted the number of new shows with out-of-this-world themes slated to be on the broadcast networks’ Fall schedules. The new Fall season has now arrived, and it is probably safe to conclude that among the shows, only one – Terra Nova – provides at least an opportunity for science to get caught up in entertainment. The other shows featured in the New York Times piece – Grimm, Once Upon a Time, The Secret Circle, and A Gifted Man – have fantasy elements, but no intersection with science, it seems.

So, The Exchange decided to check out what is new this season on networks other than ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, and NBC, using The Futon Critic’s comprehensive listing.

Superheroes Are for Girls, Too!

Women and girls have a message for comic book writers everywhere: We like superheroes, too! Across the internet female bloggers are taking aim at DC Comics’ rebooted Catwoman and Starfire, two popular female superheroes. The controversy is over the superheroes’ sexualized costumes and sexualized actions in the new comic books, which has angered many female readers. But whatever you think of the controversy, the message from female readers is clear: Write comic books for us too.

Superhero Movies Are Getting Real

Recently, we stumbled on a clip from the 1966 film Batman known mostly for its use of shark repellant. Yes, shark repellant, as well as barracuda repellant, whale repellant, and manta ray repellant – all part of Batman’s Oceanic Repellant Bat Sprays, conveniently located in his helicopter. Did we mention during this clip that Batman is hanging off a rope ladder from said helicopter as a shark chews on his leg? Yes, that’s happening, too. With Robin’s help, he manages to get the shark to drop off his leg (with the use of the shark repellant, of course) and somehow escapes without even a rip in his costume. It is silly and unbelievable – a startling contrast to realism and plausibility in a growing number of recent superhero films.

Dark Matters: Twisted But True Science Tales

It’s time for a pop quiz! Which of the following three science experiments failed?

A. Genetically engineering goats to produce spider silk

B. Embedding beetles with remote controls 

C. Cross-breeding of humans and apes

Contagion: Going Viral

Refusing to eat the communal peanuts at airport bars, an extra bottle of hand sanitizer, the sudden usage of a word like “fomite” – spotting an individual who has recently watched the movie Contagion is as simple as recognizing the symptoms. Contagion, released September 9, 2011, is a chilling look at what happens when a lethal virus transmits from animal to human, and explodes into a global epidemic. Sure, other films have featured viruses taking over the world (turning humans into zombies, for example) but Contagion is different. The film’s fictional world is much more real and much more plausible. 

Evolution of the 'The Big Bang Theory'

The Big Bang Theory finally received its first Emmy nomination for outstanding comedy series, one of five awards it is nominated for next month. Jim Parsons (Sheldon) did win an Emmy last year for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series, and both he and Johnny Galecki (Leonard) are nominated in the same category this year, but it took four seasons for the show itself to be recognized as one of the best situation comedies on the air. In contrast, Modern Family was nominated (and won) in its first season out.

Fantasy into Science, or Realizing the Impossible: Teleportation

During the years, we have watched Captains Kirk, Picard, and others in the Star Trek universe step onto a transporter platform, fade into shimmering motes of light, then instantaneously reappear on the surface of an unexplored planet. This is teleportation, surely the coolest possible way to travel through space – no need to squirm into a spacesuit or navigate a spaceship; just step up and away you go!

Another Earth: Meeting the 'Other You'

Putting the science in science-fiction can be trickier than it seems, just ask Mike Cahill and Brit Marling, co-writers of the Sloan Prize-winning film Another Earth. The film follows Rhoda Williams, a young woman who killed a mother and child in a drunk-driving accident, which derails her plans to attend MIT and study astrophysics. Sentenced to four years in prison, she befriends John, the husband and father of the people she killed after her release. 

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.