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Film

Science at the Movies is a new film series for geeks

Posted by Eric Boshart / February 28, 2013

Science at the MoviesPersonally I'm more of a Star Wars guy. Mark it up to a joie-de-vivre, more sociable personality or dumber brain, but I'd rather employ hyper speed than warp drive. And so, frankly, I was glad to watch a rockstar physicist mathematically lampoon the Star Trek Universe for the first of the "Science at the Movies" series. Best leave Star Wars out of it.

There tends to be a strange notion that science education ends at around grade 10 unless you want to make a career out of it. What this attitude results in is a populous ignorant to basic scientific precepts in a science fiction-filled world. This is a big problemo because this knowledge gap is a perfect place for politicians, big business and snake oil salesmen to manipulate us Joe Schmos into voting, investing, and buying against our own interests. Knowledge is power, for real.

Enter the University of Toronto Scientific Engagement website and the Treehouse Group who are trying to bridge the gap between the lab coat and the layman. And what's a better way to do that than with Hollywood Movies!

For the first installment of the series, a screening of Star Trek: First Contact was bookended by a talk and Q&A with rockstar physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek among other things I have not read. And yes, I understand that a physicist talking about science of Star Trek sounds so nerdy that your privates are likely to fall off, but hear me out.

The good doctor was very engaging, employing the right balance of a physicist's bluntness, dry lefty humour and anecdotal name dropping. His pre-movie lecture consisted of addressing the plausibility of some key Star Trek technologies including warp drive (maybe), wormholes (maybe), transporters (nope) and time travel (maybe).

He was able to explain these pretty complex ideas with simple props like balloons and toilet paper tubes so that even I could grasp them. Of course, being an ignoramus I have no idea if he was full of shit or not, but I'm assuming someone in the audience would have called him out if he was.

After the screening of Star Trek: First Contact, a movie about James Cromwell being visited by futuristic space/time travelers, audience members were able to ask Dr. Krauss any questions they could muster, including queries as to his thoughts on aliens (probably assholes), the Big Bang Theory (he'd like it more if he got a cameo) and actual science stuff.

While not quite as inclusive as a straight up lecture, I left feeling entertained and edified. It was an enjoyably augmented night of the movies and at $10 ain't too bad on the wallet. There are two more films left in the series, the cult genetic drama Gattaca and the third best sentient robot movie ever made, Short Circuit*. Star Wars is not included, probably because it is completely scientifically plausible.

*The second best being Terminator 2 and the best being Short Circuit 2.

Discussion

4 Comments

Joe Schmo / February 28, 2013 at 09:37 am
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Great article Eric! FOR REAL!
j-rock / February 28, 2013 at 10:56 am
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"This is a big problemo because this knowledge gap is a perfect place for politicians, big business and snake oil salesmen to manipulate us Joe Schmos into voting, investing, and buying against our own interests."

I can't think of a better argument for mandatory science education until at least the end of high school.

Even going a step further, it's ridiculous that you can graduate with a degree in the arts or humanities from most universities without ever having to take a science course. And similarly, science and engineering students can go 4 or 5 years without ever having to write an essay. As a society, we're becoming more and more educated, but the purpose of education has shifted from producing well rounded thinkers, into mere job training.

I'm also sad to hear that transporters are a no-go.
nicole replying to a comment from j-rock / February 28, 2013 at 11:20 am
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Ditto on the transporters. Definitely my favourite futuristic gizmo idea which could solve a helluva lot of our current problems.

Terrific article!
Josh / March 1, 2013 at 04:03 pm
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The TNG movies always kind of bugged me, as a fan of the show, the movies never matched the tone the stories or even the characters, maybe this was an attempt to grab a wider audience that might then in turn start watching the show, but as someone who liked the slow thoughtful plots of the tv show, these movies are weird. Why is the enlightened diplomat Piccard mowing down borg with a machine gun? Why does data jump down 50 feet into machine gun fire, where they not trying to keep a low profile?

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