Blog Tags

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 communication

Subscribe to science communication

Addicted to LOST's "Teaching Moments"

For years, I resisted watching the TV series LOST. My friends loved it, assuring me that once I started watching the show, I wouldn’t be able to stop. So it seemed a good idea not to start. But then the Science & Entertainment Exchange matched the producers of the DVD extras for Season 5 with a few good physicists for a filmed bonus feature. They sent some sample episodes, and we were hooked. We bought the DVDs of prior seasons and are squeezing in the odd episode whenever time permits. Who knew 40+ people stranded on a desert island could prove to be so compelling? (The millions of existing LOST fans, of course.)

Driving Rocket Ships and Talking with Our Minds

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 19, 1969, and there has been a predictable flurry of reporting about the event. The New York Times asked me and a few others to recall our memories of the 1969 events, in which I recalled how enthralled I was as a 15-year-old, staying home from school to chart the entire missions, building scale models, and dreaming of one day perhaps being the first Canadian Astronaut.

A Response to Jerry

Well Jerry, you’ve done it again. And not just in bringing to light Jessica Alba’s groundbreaking work, most of which was conducted in between takes on Fantastic Four 2: the search for a spin-off. No, what you have proposed is much bigger than Miss Alba’s theories into time and space. Using the fool-proof Hollywood studio method of nurturing creativity and ingenuity and applying it to the science community? Brilliant! I was such a fan of this idea that after reading your blog I quickly jumped in my car, made sure my precious dogs were strapped in, remembered I had forgotten my BlackBerry, hurried to my office only stopping off at the gym, the coffee shop on Montana Avenue, a few boutiques, a breakfast meeting at Urth Café, back to the gym to see if my BlackBerry was there (it wasn’t), then to my office. There was no time to spare; I was inspired and my work was about to begin. As soon as I could find my blackberry that is!

Smashing the Stereotypes

There is a scene that takes place at a math tournament in the 2004 film Mean Girls wherein each team must pick the weakest member from the other team to compete in a tie-breaking “sudden death” round. The boys on one team don’t even need to mull it over: they automatically pick the token female on the opposing team – because everyone knows girls aren’t as good as boys at math. Right?

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.

Why Is Science Outreach Important?

I was interviewed the other day by a journalist who asked me the following questions: Why is science outreach important? What does it matter whether people know anything about what is going on at the forefront of esoteric areas like cosmology? My response was colored by a recent experience giving a lecture to inaugurate the International Year of Astronomy at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

I was lecturing on “The Impact of Modern Cosmology on Culture.” And the point that really hit home as I prepared my lecture is the fact that the existence of the Big Bang really deeply permeates the modern Zeitgeist. The discovery in 1929 that the Universe was expanding, combined with Le Maitre’s realization that Einstein’s General Relativity required a Big Bang (a fact that Einstein ridiculed until he realized it was correct), meant the Universe has a beginning. 

I'd Like To Thank the (National) Academy

Remember the scene in Back to School where Rodney Dangerfield’s millionaire character hires Kurt Vonnegut to help him write a paper about the works of Kurt Vonnegut? Or the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen pulls Marshall McClune out of nowhere to settle an argument with some idiot outside a movie theater? If only that happened in real life. 

But wait a minute, I forgot, it does happen in real life now that the Science & Entertainment Exchange is up and running. Hollywood professionals really do have that kind of quick access to top experts across all areas of science.

Culture Shift

A couple of years ago, at a friend’s party, I wound up chatting with one of the writers/producers on the hit TV series Bones. When I mentioned I was a science writer, he visibly paled and became instantly defensive: “I know, I know, the science on our show is unrealistic, DNA results never come back that fast….”

I assured him I loved the show and the occasional scientific liberties didn’t bother me, because the stories and the characters were so compelling. But I thought it was a shame that this very smart man only heard from the scientific community when they were complaining about whatever the show got wrong. So he associated scientists with factual nit-picking and finger-pointing, when in fact, science is every bit as creative and innovative as writing for film and television, and can be a treasure trove of inspiration to a writer seeking funky new plot twists and characters.