It is nice to see the variety of authors at a book fair event like this one, and it’s great to see people’s enthusiasm about meeting people who’ve written works they’ve spent a lot of time with. The long lines for signings are remarkable! As you might guess, I’m very much a supporter of the unsung authors doing good work in their own small way, not anywhere near the spotlight. An interesting booth caught my notice as I was wandering… The word “science” caught my eye. Seems that a mother and daughter team wrote a science book to engage children to become involved in science… Hurrah! So Jalen Langie (the daughter, amusingly wearing a lab coat) gets to be [...] Click to continue reading this post →
I’m doing a disturbing amount of speechifyin’ this month. One of the occasions is tomorrow, and is open to the general public. Have you been to the Natural History Museum’s “Traveling the Silk Road” exhibition yet? I went to have a look a couple of days ago and it is rather nice. I recommend it. There are even live silk worms!
I’ve been coorganizing an event as part of their series of lectures that accompanies the event and I am delighted to announce that I have connected two of the most awesome spaces and institutions in the city for this one. The Griffith Observatory will team up with the Natural History Museum for this one, with a lecture and Q+A session, and then (weather permitting) a bit of stargazing in the new gardens! Please spread the word and come along: [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Don’t forget that on the USC campus on Friday at 4:00pm, we’ll be kicking off the Collecting the Cosmos event! It will be in the Doheny library, and there’ll be a presentation and discussion first, and then a special opening reception for the exhibition. Be sure to get yourself on the waiting list since there’s some chance that you’ll get in even if you have not RSVPed yet. (The image is from the Visions and Voices event site, and includes parts of the artworks – by artists Victor Raphael and Clayton Spada – to be included in the exhibition, so come along and see.) The event description says, in part: [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Many people have been asking me whether the show The Universe on the History Channel and its sister channel H2, (now the longest-running science show on commercial TV in the US) has come to an end, and I’ve not actually known the answer (but have been assuming so). Well, the good news is that there are some new episodes being made! I know this since I was involved in some filming for a few segments on two episodes on Thursday. I spent the lunchtime session talking about novae and supernovae, and the [...] Click to continue reading this post →
It was fun! (See previous post for what I’m talking about.) The audience seemed to like it. I got to explain that being curious and doing experiments and forming hypotheses is somehow preferable (to some) to sitting back and saying “God did it”, and that there are a lot of nice side effects of that curiosity. (You know, increased food supply, improved medicine, better communications, travel, overall quality of life, and so forth…) We even got to talk a tiny bit about physics (somehow I got on to neutrinos…. not sure why, but then… why not?). [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Well it is 6:30pm. It was my plan to take a nap this late afternoon (maybe early evening) but I’m not going to do that anymore. Why? Well turns out I’m appearing in a show this evening. It starts at midnight so I’m a little afraid that I might just sleep all the way through, wake up tomorrow morning and so miss my spot. So while the sleep would do me some good in order to be up so late, and functioning, I think I’ll skip it.
What’s the show? Well it’s a show on stage put on by some of the Upright Citizens Brigade. They asked me to appear as a guest – not as a character, but actually as myself, a scientist. It’ll be in front of a live audience, although they will be taping it later possible broadcast. You know how it goes with me – I especially like an opportunity to put some science out there here it is not expected so this is right up my alley. My understanding is that it’s a comedy [...] Click to continue reading this post →
….In which Crystal and many of the crew chill out on the sofa after a long hard season of shows and express some of their gut feelings about the whole business. Well done on an excellent series of shows, Crystal, Patrick, James, and all the other behind the scenes people! (Warning: – This episode may not be for the squeamish!)
Well, since yesterday was all about eating here in the USA (Thanksgiving, in case you missed that), I thought I’d share a partially inked panel from The Project, of a meal in progress. I got a bit of quiet time to work on it this evening, while listening to Jimi Hendrix and then Freddie Hubbard. They helped a lot. It is at times like this I wonder what insanity has come over me […] Click to continue reading this post →
This episode of Fail Lab gets down to the bone of the matter: Failure. The whole point of this excellently conceived series was to look at the fail videos all over the web (as everyone does) and instead of just laughing at the people in them (as most people do), take a different path and try to see the positive in the failure. Sometimes with humour, and/or with tongue in cheek, but with an eye on looking at things a bit differently. Now this special episode turns and looks the issue directly in the eye. I have the honor of being a co-presenter of this one again, again with the excellent Crystal Dilworth, and this time we break the pattern and have yet a third person as a co-presenter – Adam Steltzner from JPL, the chief engineer of the landing stage of the Mars Curiosity mission, you might recall. Crystal and Adam are on the left. (You might also recall that we teamed up for an event earlier this year at the Natural History Museum…)
Together, we talk in the episode about the whole idea of failure, making mistakes, and of course, experimentation. We highlight how it underpins all innovation, scientific, technological, artistic… all corners of human […] Click to continue reading this post →
Fail Lab Episode Nine, all about Aggression, is now online. See earlier posts (listed below) for thoughts about this excellent series on Discovery’s Test Tube.
(By the way, (spoiler alert) in the video they analyze this week, that looks like a bit like a Wing Chun move (and stance) to me… albeit a tad sloppy. And I note that it was used to end the aggression. A win for positive use of martial arts!)
I was sent* this delightful short film recently. It is by Shixie (Xiangjun Shi) done as a graduation project at Rhode Island School of Design. It seems that it won prizes – quite understandably! – at a number of short film festivals, including one about science communication (which reminds me of the one I run). The film is entitled “Why Do I Study Physics?” and it is a lovely piece of writing and hand drawn simple animation that’s very […] Click to continue reading this post →
You’ll recall that I was in New York a short while ago to film some promotional material for a new TV series. It is called Big History, and it will be on History Channel’s H2 channel (and eventually on various international channels, but I’ve no idea which – similar ones to where you find the other show I’ve mentioned a bit, The Universe, I expect).
Rather than be primarily about astronomical and cosmological things, the show will focus each week on one of a list specific items that have affected our history, and take the long view about that item. How long a view? The longest known possible! So take something like Salt, and examine its role in civilization and culture, bringing in historians, anthropologists, etc… and physical scientists to trace that object back to its roots in the early universe… (the big bang, the cores of stars, etc.) Update: For you Breaking Bad fans, note that it’ll be narrated by Bryan Cranston, by the way.
Managed to find a little time over the last few days to lay out, draw, and ink a page in The Project. It has been insanely busy for me, so this is a little bit of a triumph in stealing some time back. It’s actually the same seminar that you saw in earlier posts (here and here). Now it is over. It remains a tradition in our field to give a little round of applause after a talk, which I find rather nice and quaint. It was a pleasure to depict that.
It is a wider view of the room, which meant (aaaargh!) drawing even more faces and bodies than before. Then there’s the challenge of doing them in different states of attention, applauding, with different faces, bodies, states of dress, etc. When I come to paint it I’ll be wanting to pick colors that together communicate the right mood for the panel and for the whole page it is part of, and so forth. It can be daunting to do all those faces, bodies, shirts, feet, and […] Click to continue reading this post →
Fail Lab Episode 6 has a lot of things blowing up, so that’s good, right? We actually had a lot of fun mixing in a little bit of comedy with the science. (See an earlier post I did after shooting this episode.) I hope you have fun watching it! As a bonus, everybody’s favourite, petal the brain dog, makes an appearance again. Well done once again, director/writer/producer Patrick and his team for their work on making it such a visual treat – and James, it was fun to write with you and Crystal!
I did an interview last week Tuesday with the channel CU@USC. It is a chat show, and so I did the sitting on the couch thing and so forth. All very amusing…
…And hopefully useful. I am spending many hours each day building awareness for this year’s USC Science Film Competition, an annual project you might remember me starting back in 2011, and stressing over a lot. And then again in 2012. It continues to survive for another year. This is year three, and although it has given me many grey hairs, I fight on, because I think it is of value to get students from all fields, whether scientist or engineer, writer or filmmaker, journalist or artist, to learn to collaborate in the art of telling a story that has science content. (Actually, learning to collaborate to tell a story about any issue of even moderate nuance is an important skill, science or not.) Anyway, the interview material is now up online and so you can have a look here. (The site uses flash, so might not work on some devices.)
I speak about the competition and also my own take on bringing science to film both fact and fiction (which for the latter especially is probably different from many others in that I don’t think it is always productive for a scientist in a film project to be [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Fail Lab Episode 3 is up at Discovery’s Test Tube channel. This week talks about electricity a little bit, again in the context of an online fail video that we unpack a little. I say “we” since this time I’m on the show (accidentally showing off my energy-manipulating powers in public again – I really need to stop doing that).
It was a lot of fun to help out with the show that day, and (for better or worse!) there’s a bit more with me on the way, and of course lots more of the whole Fail Lab series to look forward to.
I find myself in New York for a few days. (Sorry for the gap in blogging this week!) The blurry picture summarizes one of my favourite things to immerse myself in when in the city. A great upstairs bar on the corner of 2nd street and avenue A, and a great band of young jazz players that gives one hope that the art is not dead.
My main business was earlier today, at a studio in Brooklyn, shooting some promo material for the new big documentary show on the History Channel (probably on H2) that will air later this Fall. I’m not sure if it is out there what the new show is so I will hold off until I know what I can tell you. Needless to say it involvs science, and I think it mixes science and other topics together in a nice way that makes for a nice concept for a show. More later, I hope. Here’s a shot with me in the middle of the setup*! Charmingly made up to give he impression of a star field, perhaps, when viewed through the A and B cameras: [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Interesting (and not surprising) decision over at the Popular Science website* concerning comments on articles. It’ll probably remind you a little bit of my post from a few days ago about the kinds of behaviour surrounding blog discussions of research in my field. At some point, especially for a complex subject and in times when people are not inclined to really dig deeply to learn the issues, it all can get very counterproductive.
Episode two of Fail Lab is up now! (I told you quite a bit about this new series on the Discovery web channel Test Tube last week.) This is another excellent quirky and fun one, talking about the dynamics of sexual selection that’s going in all those fail videos you see online, where the guys are making a pig’s ear of some trick or other. This week you get to see the show’s brain on display too!
Last year I mentioned the fantastic work of Julien Bobroff and his collaborators in developing an impressive science outreach program that does wonderful demos of the physics of the quantum world, using superconductors (and other things). He gave a talk about it at the Aspen Center for Physics and took part in some discussions about outreach at a nearby conference that David Pines had organized. Well, he’s written an article about the program and it appears in this month’s Physics Today and it seems that you can get it for free if you go here. I strongly recommend it since it might give you some ideas about how you might go about explaining some of the science you do to people (if you’re a scientist) or it might excite you to learn more about the science if you are not already familiar with it. Maybe even a show featuring science that might be coming near you one day, and/or go to a science fair.
THe great thing about the article is that it is passing on lessons learned – sharing both good and bad news. One of the the frustrations for me about the whole science outreach effort that is done by so many of us is that we’re largely reinventing the wheel every time we decide to do something, and moreover it isn’t actually always the wheel. We’re trying stuff and we’re not measuring its effectiveness, and we’re not sharing much about what works and what does not, so the outreach effort goes only so far, largely. It is one of the reasons you read me writing a lot about trying to do different things beyond just the usual- putting science where you don’t always expect it, since most of what is done is picked up by people who are already predisposed to pay attention to the science, which does not expand the reach of the outreach very much. Julien picks up on an aspect of this issue nicely. Quoting [...] Click to continue reading this post →
What happened here? Who is that, and what exactly made her so annoyed? Read on!
There are a number of new things coming out on screens near you (or may have already aired) that might interest you. For fans of the History Channel’s The Universe (thanks so much for all the emails with kind remarks, and so forth, by the way) there’s a new show in the works that’ll mix science and history (and other disciplines) in an interesting way. I’ve no idea when it is set to air though, and frankly I’m very confused as to what is on History and what is on H2, the companion channel, so I’ll just say watch out for that. We shot a lot of material for that earlier this year, and I hope you enjoy the show overall, despite my mumbling mug appearing on your screen a bit!
Apparently the many of the Weather Channel’s science-y segments were shown, in a series called “Deadly Space Weather”, which imagines what would happen on earth if you brought various prevailing conditions on other planets back here. Yeah, I know… but actually it’s a good opportunity to think about science ideas, at least in principle. You’ll recall that I did some demos for that which were rather fun – and hopefully interesting too. I saw a piece of one of them online (10:44 or so), and got rather annoyed at one point. There’s a segment where I demonstrate – with real sulphuric acid – the effect it has on organic compounds, using sugar. It is quite spectacular. And of course quite dangerous, so I’m actually wearing a lab coat (yes, there are occasions where real [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Wow! This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been hoping to see more of! When the report on this started on NPR about having students do music and video about science topics, I groaned a bit (while making breakfast) when I heard the Watson and Crick mentions in the clip in the background, saying to myself that it is so unfair that once again, Rosalind Franklin is being forgotten and a whole bunch of kids will miss the opportunity to learn about the nuances involved in doing science, and miss that she did such crucial work on this most important discovery…. I continued making my coffee, listening to the report with half an ear…. and then! …more of the clip was played and a girl’s voice came on, singing a bit about Rosalind Franklin, and then I realized that this was exactly the story they were telling in the video*. The whole NPR report, by Adam Cole, is here, with a short video doc. It is about not just the Rap B.A.T.T.L.E.S. doing songs and videos about various science topics, but also about other programs as well, started by people such as Christopher Emdin at Columbia, and others. Excellent.
I’ve embedded the Franklin/Watson/Crick video below. It was made by students in the Bay area, guided by Tom McFadden at Stanford. I think this is great piece of work since they did a great job on production, particularly with casting and costuming everyone to play the principals, cutting in reaction shots and so forth… It’s a real film! And for a change, for a popular rap about science that a wide variety of young people might be attracted to, this time the music is actual contemporary rap (which usually means well thought out lyrics combined with rhythmic devices that are definitely post 1980s, and not just a bunch of lines recited over a corny background beat – see another excellent example at the end of this post) which is great! An amusing and poignant extract:
[...] Click to continue reading this post →
[caption id="attachment_14281" align="aligncenter" width="499"] The crowd watching Devo on stage at the Natural History Museum’s 100th Birthday celebration (click for larger view)[/caption]The 100th Birthday party at the Natural History Museum was fantastic! Adam Steltzner’s talk was excellent and it was a pleasure to be the MC and introduce him and run the Q&A. (It was a tall order for me to fill Michael Quick’s shoes, but I gave it a shot.) The audience was really great, and there were several great questions. The wide shot (click for larger view) at the top is a panorama shot of the outdoor concert stage, with Devo just starting their set (GZA of Wu-Tang Clan was on just before). I took it* while standing under the fin whale skeleton that is the centerpiece of the new Otis Booth entryway pavilion that was unveiled just minutes earlier. (See more about that space and other new exhibits here.) Here are a couple of shots (click for larger view) from Adam’s session, where he gave an inspiring talk about the engineering of the landing of the Curiosity Mars rover, with reflections on space exploration in general**:
[caption id="attachment_14261" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Adam Steltzner talking about the Curiosity Mission at the Natural History Museum’s 100th Birthday bash[/caption] [...] Click to continue reading this post →
A creative team at IBM made a rather elaborate little stop motion film recently*. “Little” is a key word here. The moveable elements are atoms (well, actually CO molecules), moved with a scanning tunnelling microscope! They are calling the project “Atomic Shorts”, it seems. (Pause…) Yep, on reflection, I think I will stay away from all the obvious juvenile jokes that spring to my mind…
You might recall that last year I gave a talk at TED Youth, in their second year of short TED talks aimed at younger audiences. You’ll recall (see e.g. here and here) I made a special set of slides for it, composed from hundreds of my drawings to make it all in graphic novel style, and somehow trying to do (in 7 minutes!!) what the TED people wanted.
They wanted an explanation of string theory, but when I learned that I was the only person in the event talking about physics, I kind of insisted that (in a year when we’d discovered the Higgs boson especially!) I talk more broadly about the broader quest to understand what the world is made of, leaving a brief mention of string theory at the end as one of the possible next steps being worked on. Well, they’ve now edited it all together and made it into one of the lessons on the TED Ed site, and so you can look at it. Show it to friends, young and old, and remember that it is ok if you don’t get everything that is said… it is meant to invite you to find out more on your own. Also, as you see fit, use the pause button, scroll back, etc… to get the most out of the narrative.
Well, yes, I’ve been a bit busy and so posting has been slow over the last week. But I am still alive, and here I am with a sample of one of the several things I was doing. It is some work on the graphic book project. (You’ll be happy that I am sparing you details of tedious committees, faculty meetings, confusing snippets of physics, incomplete musings and computations, etc…)
As mentioned recently, I’ve been doing thumbnails and rough page layouts on one of the stories, and that has been useful for editing and rewriting. I went further and improved an earlier story that I’d written that had mostly been drawn already, and so that encouraged me to do slightly tighter page layouts so as to fit them more closely to the story as it was already drawn, for a smoother final read. I’ll need to find [...] Click to continue reading this post →
I was interviewed by an online publication called The Arts and Entertainment Magazine for their 1st January edition. You might find it interesting, since I talk about some of the themes I bring up here a lot, such as trying to improve public understanding of science, and various projects connected to that sort of thing. It is here. Enjoy!
Actually, they’ve started doing a series of spotlights on various scientists, so browse through the website for other interviews, if that interests you.
Here’s the first slide of my TEDYouth talk from Saturday. It was time consuming but fun to draw all those hands and tiny items of various sorts. The whole talk was about what I call “hidden structures”, which in a sense is what my field (high energy physics, particle physics, cosmology, string theory, etc.,) is all about. To help motivate it all, I started by talking about opening up your smart phone and figuring out how it works by taking it apart and discovering the components inside, and using the rules of how to put them together to deduce the structure of other things (see that second stage of the slide being delivered on stage*).
Well, it is great to be back in New York. Multiple times this year – hurrah! I’ve just got back from the Times Center where all the speakers have been running through their talks to smooth out kinks of various kinds (technical glitches, run time, etc). The senior TED people are here sitting in the auditorium and one by one we come up and go through things to give us a chance to get familiar with the stage, and to hear any thoughts or comments. (See tiny picture on the left.) People have done really good jobs preparing, and so most comments are simply ones of congratulations, with some small suggestions here and there with regards points of confusion, or sound levels, or run time. We’ve got six minutes. You heard me right – I must explain all of particle physics and research in string theory in six minutes. I like my challenges… Well, I spent a lot of time designing the content of the talk [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Ack! As you know, it has been an incredibly busy semester for me, but I still try to find time to tell you a bit of what is going on. Not long ago I got an email from the TED people asking me if I’d like to talk at one of their events. This event is for young people, called TEDYouth. It’ll be on November 17th. Well, this is such a good cause – how can I not do this?
You can see the announcement of the “incredible lineup” of speakers on TED’s site here. (I linked the photomontage they used there.) I’m looking forward to being in the audience to hear some of these guys talk!
So one of the things that has been taking up my time is the USC Science Film Competition. Well, last week, an important (slightly nail-biting) deadline passed, and that was the date by which interdisciplinary teams should have formed (finding each other due to the awareness campaign I’ve been running around doing since August – with the help of faculty who kindly spread the word in their classes, the blog I set up, an article by Pam Johnson in the Dornsife News, and ads in the Daily Trojan), come up with a film idea, and registered it.
Somewhere in all the craziness (that has partly been responsible for the light posting of late), yesterday I had time to rush over to a lab to do some demonstrations for a new TV show that is upcoming. It went rather well, since some time was found to prepare all the logistics for it, and one of our lab demo experts, Angella, did a great job of sourcing the things needed and testing it out beforehand. My job (after helping with the logistics of getting the operation off the ground and connecting some of the dots to make the shoot happen) was to show up and talk about the science and do the demonstrations.
It was about conditions on some of our popular neighbouring planets, and so in addition to holding models of the dear things and talking a bit about them to camera, I engaged in some demonstrations. The demos were simple enough – showing how to boil water at room temperature by simply dropping the pressure, and showing how sulphuric acid wreaks havoc with sugar by sucking the water out of it, making an impressive black column of carbon… fun!
I was glad to be doing some science discussion for public consumption again as we did not shoot any new episodes for The Universe this Summer (as in previous years)… They are still working through the backlog of shows we shot from last year, apparently. Part of the recent craziness was dashing off to another part of town last week to shoot some segments for another show entirely (some online material for a [...] Click to continue reading this post →
…And here we are again! I’m launching the second year of the USC Science Film Competition as of, well, a few seconds ago. Please go to the website to learn more. You’ll find a collection of links at the very end of the main page, along with a slide show, talking a bit about last year’s successful inaugural competition. I’m hoping for a competition at least as exciting and interesting (er, in all the good ways!) as last year.
Over at HuffPo, my colleague Nick Warner has posted a piece about why we teach algebra to people who supposedly “won’t need it”, and he makes some excellent points. (Recall the silly New York Times piece by Andrew Hacker entitled “Is Algebra Necessary?” that I mentioned a few posts ago.)
I can’t decide whether to be annoyed or amused by the opinion piece by Andrew Hacker entitled “Is Algebra Necessary?” in the New York Times on Sunday*. Annoyed because it is such an obviously flawed piece of writing, essentially saying that since (in the US) the system is failing to teach lots of people basic mathematics in school, the solution is to stop teaching it rather than figure out what is going wrong with the teaching process, while at the same time very lamely trying to make the case that it has no use anyway. Amused because it’s obviously flawed, and hopefully anyone reading it will laugh – one’s first thought has to be that it is not a serious article, given that it it is published in a respectable newspaper with reasonably educated editors.
I was very impressed with the presentation Julien Bobroff gave in Monday’s public dialogue here at the Aspen Center for Physics. It was all about Superconductivity, and he and his team have done a tremendous job of putting together lots of materials for exploring this topic. Its a great example of some really careful thinking producing very accessible ways into understanding a remarkable quantum mechanical phenomenon that has quite a bit of striking and direct impact on a number of walks of life. This makes for great material for everyone, whether you are an expert physicist (who might want to show some of this to others), a teacher who wants some good materials to your classes, or simply someone who is not an expert but just find yourself curious about the world.
It turns out that a really great way of passing the time when listening to someone give a talk is to do some sketch practice. [... wait, what? The post title? Oh! No, no, don't be silly. Ok., let me continue ...] If the subject matter is right, it’s a good thing to do while you focus on what’s being said. This last couple of days I’ve been in Aspen, Colorado, and I’m starting out my visit here with a three day conference entitled “Becoming Engaged: Initiatives That Can Change Science Education”. You can see more about it on a dedicated website hosted by ICAM. One of the people behind it is David Pines, and we’ve had many conversations about science outreach and science education over the years, and so he invited me to participate. I’m supposed to be here at Aspen for my visit to the Aspen Center for Physics, and so I’m only partially attending, opting to to listen to some talks, and take part in some discussions… then going back over to the center to hear some LHC and Higgs chatter on the LHC workshop that is starting up this week.
There are a lot of interesting people talking about science education, and science outreach, many describing their various approaches and projects in short talks and presentations. (I will tell you about some of them in future posts.) It is great to meet several people who are passionate about outreach too, and see what others are up to and share ideas… so this is a valuable time. Hopefully, some action ideas will come of this meeting that [...] Click to continue reading this post →
This was an incredibly busy visit, but worthwhile. We pulled 12+ hour days in getting everything needed for the film (about the Aspen Center for Physics), with lots of backup, and oodles of great footage. So much that I fear we have so much great material we can make five completely different short films instead of the one that is supposed to be delivered. It is going to be tough. I’m so excited about some of the things that we’ve shot. A number of ideas I had for the arc of the film, the feel and tone, and the opening moments, look to be falling together almost _exactly_ as I envisioned them months ago.
Ouf excellent DP, Dave Gaw, (an accomplished filmmaker in his own right) seems to almost immediately get what I’m trying to do when I explain something I’ve visualized, or when I draw it, and so the shots work out quite nicely, and sometimes he’s gone and filmed some sequences that look very much like ones I’d been imagining, sometimes without us even having had a discussion about it! It has been a great collaboration among the three of us – Dave, Bob Melisso (my co-Producer/Director), and myself – as we exchange ideas about how to best implement something or other to make it tell part of the story…
Here’s a nice article (by Ambrosia Brody) about some of the work the Joint Educational Project (JEP), Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences (all here at USC) have been doing to get school students excited about science. It looks like a fun and valuable program, and it is always great to see the look of wonder on the faces of the students as they explore (see film below). (Photo is by Nick Pittarides for USC News.)