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Science Fact, Fiction Collide In Reel Science Film Series

Real scientists address reel science in pop culture

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Photo credit: Universal

Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) try to get "Back to the Future" as the San Diego Natural History Museum kicks off its second round of Reel Science on May 4 at Digital Gym Cinema.

Reel Science Film Series

May 4: "Back to the Future," 7 p.m., Digital Gym Cinema

May 11: "Phase IV," 7 p.m., theNAT

May 18: "Memento," 7 p.m., Digital Gym Cinema

May 25: "The Matrix," 7 p.m., theNAT

For the second year, the San Diego Natural History Museum is presenting Reel Science, a film series where actual scientists address the science in movies.

Movies may not always get real science right, but even bad science can inspire the imagination. That’s the point of the San Diego Natural History Museum's Reel Science film series. It pairs local scientists with popular movies in the hopes of mixing science fact with science fiction to kick-start a conversation about science. The San Diego Natural History Museum, or theNAT, is always looking for ways to engage the public and educate people, and pop culture seemed the perfect entry point.

Last year the series was successful in bringing people to theNAT who had never been there before. It also playfully asked people to look at "Flash Gordon" as a found footage film and consider what it might yield up in terms of information a scientist could use to make deductions about the planet Mongo and its inhabitants.

You can hear a discussion of the films from last year with the scientists who presented them on my Cinema Junkie Podcast 104. Three of the scientists are returning: Michael Wall, curator of Entomology at theNAT, Bradley Voytek, Assistant Professor of Computational Cognitive Science and Neuroscience at UC San Diego; and Daniel Sheehan, physics professor at University of San Diego.

Physicist Brian Shotwell is the newbie of the bunch, and he kicks off this year's series with "Back to the Future," which stars Christopher Lloyd as the iconic mad scientist Doc Brown.

"This one was unique in that it was just a fun movie, but the more I thought about it the more physics I realized were involved in the movie," Shotwell said. "I get to talk about energy and power and time travel, and I get to talk about the Mr. Fusion at the end of the film."

Next up in the series will be Wall presenting the contemplative 1970s sci-fi cult classic, "Phase IV" that uses an intelligent ant colony to weave an allegory about the Vietnam War.

Voytek will discuss memory in the context of Christopher Nolan's neo-noir "Memento" about a man who cannot form any new memories.

And closing out the series will be Sheehan discussing "The Matrix." He pretty much shreds the science in the film but loves it for the questions it raises about how we define what is real.

Reel Science makes science accessible and fun through pop culture. I will be speaking with all four scientists on Cinema Junkie Podcast 141. The series kicks off at 7 p.m., Friday at Digital Gym Cinema with "Back to the Future." Then the series continues on Fridays in May alternating between Digital Gym and theNAT.

Video by Roland Lizarondo

For the second year, the San Diego Natural History Museum is presenting Reel Science, a film series where actual scientists address the science in movies.

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