In what started out as a hopeful trickle more than four years ago has seemingly evolved into a full-blown trend: Suddenly it's cool and hip to be a scientist in Hollywood. Ranging from such blockbuster films as The Amazing Spiderman, Battleship, The Avengers, and Iron Man 2 to TV hits including House, Fringe, Criminal Minds, and Breaking Bad, an increasing number of Hollywood productions are using real-life scientists as advisors to not only boost the technical accuracy of scripts and video content but to also create more exciting high-tech storylines to wow audiences.
What's more, Hollywood stars with a science background are being recognized for their scholarly prowess as well. For example, Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman, a 2003 Harvard graduate in psychology, is known for being one of only a few professional actors with a defined Erdős-Bacon number -- earned while at Harvard when she co-authored a key research paper on memory and brain imaging, titled "Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy," published in the journal NeuroImage.
Such developments cannot but help to break down long-held misconceptions in popular media and the public about science scholars and researchers as mere geeks and nerds, and provide role models for more young people who are considering careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Join us next April at the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival when we take you behind the scenes in exploring how science is portrayed in TV, film and other popular mediums, including meeting and hearing some of the most influential scientists working in Hollywood, such as science advisors for Breaking Bad, House, The Big Bang Theory, and those that help get the science right for those thrilling movie stunts and special effects.
And since young audiences are particularly influenced by TV and film, the Festival will get them personally involved by competing in a world-class video contest sponsored by the Kavli Foundation. Titled Science or Fiction, this cash-prize competition will challenge sixth through 12th-grade students from around the globe to investigate how science is portrayed in TV, film, video games and literature. The contest culminates at the Festival's finale Expo, April 26-27, 2014 in Washington, DC where winning entries will be shown.
Although scientists have been involved with helping Hollywood in some form or another since the start of cinema, it has been only in recent years that input from scientists has been sought and used on a continual basis for major productions. What is driving this long-overdue trend? It's really quite simple, says Janet Zucker, a producer and vice chair of the Advisory Board for the Science Entertainment Exchange (a groundbreaking program formed several years ago by the National Academy of Sciences to work with Hollywood to match filmmakers with scientific advisors ). Today's audiences are becoming more sophisticated, she says, especially younger viewers who have grown up being exposed to the latest in science and engineering, and they want to see these wonders portrayed on the screen in spectacular and believable ways.
As founder and chief organizer of the USA Science and Engineering Festival, I am proud that our event (the nation's largest celebration of science and engineering) has been ahead of the curve in making students and the public aware of the scientific accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the content they view.
The 2014 Festival Expo slated for the Washington, DC Convention Center will be no exception. Hosted once more by Festival Lead Sponsor Lockheed Martin, the Expo -- among its other exciting hands-on activities -- will feature unique opportunities to gain insight from some of the most influential scientists working in Hollywood, including:
• Expo "Accuracy in Hollywood" Panel Speakers: David Saltzberg, world-renowned particle physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who serves as science consultant for CBS TV's hit series,The Big Bang Theory; Donna Nelson, professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Oklahoma, who is science advisor to AMC's popular show, Breaking Bad; and Harvard-trained physician David Foster, medical consultant and writer for the Fox series House, MD.
• Expo X-STEM Speakers: James Kakalios, professor of Physics at the University Minnesota, who gained international attention as scientific consultant for the 2009 superhero hit film The Watchmen and for penning the popular book, The Physics of Superheroes; and Hollywood stunt scientist and special effects expert Steve Wolf.
As you can see, the Expo is the place to be next April for your Hollywood-science connection. Join us then in Washington!
Follow Larry Bock on Twitter: www.twitter.com/usasciencefest