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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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Even Superheroes Need Their Science

This past weekend, the Science and Entertainment Exchange headed to San Diego for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Our session was a panel discussion entitled "Watching the Watchmen and Cheering the Heroes: The Science of Superheroes," bringing together two physicists, a biologist, a film screenwriter, and two TV writers.

C is for 'Caprica'

Fans of Battlestar Galactica are avidly following the brand-new "prequel" series,Caprica, which explores the genesis of the Cylon race that is created by, and then rebels against, their human creators. The series' technical script consultant, Malcolm MacIver, is an ideal person to provide insights on a fictional world that grapples with the implications of human consciousness, virtual worlds, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Small Town Science

The Science and Entertainment Exchange found itself in Berkeley last week for Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's first-ever Science Cafe. The event featured Jaime Paglia, co-creator and showrunner for SyFy's hit TV series, Eureka, with a special Skype appearance by Colin Ferguson, who plays Sheriff Jack Carter on the show.

Prusiner's Prions

While everyone loves the romantic notion of the scientific revolutionary who bucks a doubting "establishment" to change our understanding of the world, every now and then, that narrative comes true. In the early 1970s, an otherwise healthy woman became a patient in the University of California, San Francisco's neurology department; she was suffering from something called a "slow virus infection," specifically, a neurodegenerative condition called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Holy Concussive Incident, Batman!

Batman takes a lot of blows to his head. These come from his fighting activities and from being routinely thrown—or leaping—onto or into hard objects like walls, floors, and moving vehicles. The issue of concussion in Batman’s career is something I addressed in Becoming Batman. In examining the scientific possibility of a human training to achieve the pinnacle of physical skill of comic book icon Batman, I reckoned him having a pretty short career. The main thing to shorten Batman’s career would be his accumulation of injuries, with concussion figuring prominently. In our own day and age concussion in sports—and particularly in hockey and football—has received considerable attention but little resolution.

Goats in the Machine

The new film, The Men Who Stare at Goats, is based on the book by Jon Ronson detailing a weird military research project involving psychic warriors, LSD, astral projection and the like. But while the movie might be fiction -- and highly amusing fiction at that, thanks to stellar performances by the cast -- there really is a historical record of both the Army and the CIA experimenting with LSD and other hallucinogens as possible "incapacitating chemical agents."

Science of the Living Dead

This week The Science & Entertainment Exchange hosted a screening and panel discussion of George Romero's latest zombie film, Survival of the Dead at The Director's Guild of America. (See photo on right, from left to right) Author Max Brooks (World War ZThe Zombie Survival Guide) moderated the evening.

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.

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.

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