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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

Science in TV/Film

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Sizzle Me This

What might happen to an idealistic marine biologist after he decides to leave the Ivory Tower? If you're Randy Olson, you become an independent filmmaker. First, you make a splash with a short music video about the sex life of barnacles. Then you take on intelligent design and the failure of the scientific community to make their counter-arguments about evolution convincingly to the public with a quirky documentary called Flock of Dodos.

Warp Drive: We're Not There ... Yet

One of the Star Trek franchise's most enduring legacies in science fiction is the fictional "warp drive" technology that enables faster-than-light travel. It's not the kind of thing that can be achieved with conventional rockets, but that doesn't mean it's entirely outside the realm of scientific plausibility. In fact, there's a long tradition of physicists writing speculative technical papers suggesting ways in which a warp drive or hyperdrive might come about.

My Favorite Cyborgs

Some of the most popular characters in science fiction are its artificial creatures: the robots like R2D2, the androids like Commander Data. I like them too, especially Data, but there’s another type of artificial creature I find more interesting. Or I should say semi-artificial, because I’m talking about cyborgs – cybernetic organisms: half living organic beings, half cold, dead steel, plastic, and computer chips.

 What is intriguing about cyborgs is the tension between the two halves. In the 1987 film RoboCop, the level of crime in Detroit requires a new kind of policing. Enter RoboCop, a metal body with super physical capabilities that’s given intelligence and personality by an implanted brain from a dead policeman. RoboCop is an outstanding law officer, but inside that casing is a mind that yearns for the warm human connections it once had but can never recover.

This Is Your Brain On Lies

What would the world be like if nobody could lie -- not even a harmless little white lie? It would probably be like the world envisioned by British comic actor Ricky Gervais in The Invention of Lying, where brutal honesty is the order of the day, until Gervais' hapless character suddenly develops the ability to lie, or in his words, "I said something... thatwasn't!" We are treated to an image of neurons in his brain firing in new ways at that pivotal evolutionary moment.

Eyes on Saturn

We nearly missed the lovely profile of astrophysicist Carolyn Porco that appeared last week in The New York Times. Porco trailblazed was part of the team that analyzed data from the Voyager spacecraft in the 1980s, making her one of the young up and coming "rock stars" of space science.

Bringing Hollywood Science to Class

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.

The Darling Bugs of May

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.

Physicists Looking Forward to "Flash Forward"

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.

Darwin Takes Center Stage

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.

"District 9" Takes a Lesson From Tesla

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.

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