The Onion on Science Programming

Yes, it’s very funny*, and awfully close to the truth as well, at least in terms of the final product. More seriously, it is worth noting that what they get wrong is the blaming of it on audiences. It is actually more about the channels (not just the Science Channel) themselves and the sort of business models they run. We, the scientists who care to, must carry on contributing where we can as well as encouraging and supporting the film-makers as much as we can. It’s not really their fault so much as the people who call the shots at the head of the money food chain. Most of the film-makers I’ve worked with on the many shows I’ve helped with (either in front of or behind the camera, or both) are passionate about the science, are keenly interested in understanding it more so as to tell the story to the public as well as they can, and are capable of doing so. They most often can’t get their shows past the people at the top who believe that the material is too inaccessible or not interesting to the public. (I’ve heard the same complaint from science journalists working in the print media too.) On the other hand, I get recognized and stopped on […] Click to continue reading this post

The Creative Science Studio

I received an email the other day asking me if I had any connection to the new initiative announced at USC recently (link here), talking about a new partnership (involving USC and the NSF) for increasing and improving the amount of science in entertainment and media products such as films and television shows, and probably more. It is called the Creative Science Studio, or CS2. You’ve read me talk about these sorts of projects on the blog a huge amount, and so I won’t repeat the motivations here (you can find earlier thoughts if you look under some of the categories this post is in for other posts on the subject).

One of the fallouts (fallsout?) of being a dabbler, behind-the-scenes-agitator and general troublemaker is that one can never really tell what are all the final projects, initiatives (and so forth) that come about as a result (at least in part) of one’s actions. In trying to significantly move forward things such as this (involving public […] Click to continue reading this post

Meteorite Men!

meteorite_men Did you watch Meteorite Men last week? If not, you can probably catch a repeat. It is a new series, airing 9pm ET/PT Wednesday nights, on the Science Channel about two guys who search for meteorites. Check your local listings for times. (Photo cheekily snapped from their site. Copyright aerolite meteorites.)

I learned about it from Bob Melisso, my producer/filmmaker friend (and occasional collaborator: see here, here and here) who made the pilot and is the supervising producer for the series. From […] Click to continue reading this post

The Universe: Cool Cars, Hot Sand, and Fast Balls

flows in death valleyYou may recall my mentioning a desert trip to shoot something for TV, some time back. One done at precisely the wrong time of year. And to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth, to boot. Well, I meant to mention that the episode of the History Channel’s The Universe that the shoot was for aired a week or two ago and it was really excellent. It was entitled “Liquid Universe” and it was a rather beautiful and thoroughly pleasant episode exploring the role of liquids in our universe, a matter not often raised in questions of astronomy except when it comes to matters of water from time to time. This was not about water per se, but rather the whole matter of material that flows and the role it plays in diverse areas of the solar system and perhaps the universe at large. I was using sand to demonstrate how sometimes there are surprising places where you can find fluid/liquid behaviour, and mentioned some of the new phases of matter found in the context, for example, of quarks and gluons at RHIC. (I’ve spoken about that here a number of times in the context of some of my research. See the archives.)

It was an excellent episode and another example of how one can take a topic under the “The Universe” heading and showcase lots of exciting science quite accessibly […] Click to continue reading this post

Slaughter at the Podium

debate_on_catholic_church1I simply insist that you take the time out to watch this video*. It is of a debate that took place on BBC television, the motion being “Is the Catholic church a force for good in the world?”. It was between Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry on one side (against) and Anne Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan on the other (for). Dogma vs Reason, when it comes down to it. Now, it is one thing for the side that is in favour of the motion to be a bit lame compared to the duo they are up against, but it is really unfortunate that Anne Widdecombe was put up as the defender of the church as she has been so utterly arrogant and unpleasant in every appearance I have ever heard or seen her in, […] Click to continue reading this post

Brian Cox on Colbert

brian_cox_colbertPhysicist Brian Cox had a bit of fun on Colbert a few nights back*. At Stephen Colbert’s prompting he mentions the nonsense about time travel and the Higgs boson, (which I decided not to blog since it was so frustratingly idiotic and had no business in, for example the science section of a national newspaper not the least because it just serves to confuse readers with even more nonsense about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) than they already have been) and then has a blast (it seems) discussing the importance of Special Relativity, [tex]E=mc^2[/tex], and why you should care, which is the subject of his new book with Jeff Forshaw.

Unfortunately he seems, at one point, to fall into the usual (high-horsed physicist) pattern of dismissing another legitimate science endeavour (food science in this case) as not science, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was just a joke made in the heat of the moment. He’s too smart and likeable a guy, (and a very good public spokesperson for science education by all accounts and past appearances), to be quite so dismissive. Riffing fast and furious with Colbert will no doubt sometimes produce such slips.

By the way (and Brian does not get this wrong, but does not get the chance to say it, and I’m sure he knows it) people often get left with the impression from press releases about the LHC (see related posts below for lots of LHC background) and other […] Click to continue reading this post

Dawkins, Atwood and More – On Darwin!

As you may know I’m a Margaret Atwood fan (read my immoderately breathless account here), and I also think that Richard Dawkins is an excellent scientist and science communicator. On the other hand, as you also know from earlier discussions, I don’t think that his take-no-prisoners approach to the science and religion discussion is the best way forward. Anyway, I found this marvelous Newsnight special from last month. A celebration of Darwin and his work. It has lots of discussion about Darwin then and now, cultural and scientific impact, the ongoing debates, a new staging of a play, a recent film, and participating is Atwood, Dawkins, and the Rev. Richard Coles and the poet Ruth Padel (who is also a descendant of Darwin.) It is in four parts and […] Click to continue reading this post


I’m sitting on the sofa watching what has so far been a really excellent episode of The Universe on the History Channel. It is entitled “Cosmic Clusters” and it has been a lovely journey (15 minutes show time gone by so far) on an imaginary spaceship ride through the galaxy looking at formations of star clusters, and discussing the process of star formation in those clusters, their birth and the conditions involved, how those conditions change as things progress, the different kinds of stars that can result, the curious case of globular clusters (M13 is pictured below, by Yuugi Kitahara) and so forth. I think it is going to go on to discuss clusters of galaxies, and clusters of those…


I’ve learned quite a bit so far from watching it, actually. It is a really lovely discussion with excellent contributions from my friend and colleague Amy Mainzer, Alex […] Click to continue reading this post

Doomsday Fun and Games

the_universeI’ve been wondering why over the last day or two I’ve been getting email about various apocalyptic scenarios. I’ve now figured out why, I think. On Tuesday, several scientists, myself included, played with the idea of how to destroy the earth! Well, it was on the History Channel in an episode of the show the Universe, (it was recorded back in June and July) entitled “Ten Ways to Destroy the Earth”. Of course, these are not scenarios we envision happening any time soon, but rather an excuse to talk about various kinds of science (from spontaneous symmetry breaking and the early universe, through planetary science, solar physics, and of course black holes and more). We list various favourite ways that were chosen to be discussed, and each physicist (although they called me an astrophysicist) picks a favourite. Fun stuff.

I chose putting a huge amount of antimatter at the core of the earth and letting it […] Click to continue reading this post

Ten Things That Go Boom!

the_universeWell, ok… Boom is not quite accurate, but the idea is that there will be ten kinds of blasts/explosions/major_energetic_events discussed tonight on the History Channel’s The Universe:

The Universe is full of explosions that both create and destroy. The Chicxulub impact on the Yucatan peninsula, which may have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, was two million times more powerful than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated on Earth. But guess what? That’s only good enough for the very bottom of the Biggest Blasts top ten list. This episode works its way up through supernova explosions and gamma ray bursts all the way to the blast that started it all–the Big Bang.

Sounds good doesn’t it? There’s a lot of good people contributing again, so I know it’ll have some good material and explanations.

In addition, I’m reasonably confident I play a role in this one…This one was a blast (sorry) to film. You saw some posts earlier reporting on some of the filming. Assuming they used the material I did with them, you’ll get to see why I was at the […] Click to continue reading this post

It Fell From Space…

the_universeTonight’s 9:00pm episode of the History Channel’s The Universe ought to be interesting. It is all about objects that fall to earth from space. It’s a good opportunity to learn things about the universe (both near and far) from the perspective of things we glimpse arriving here on earth. You’ll get to learn about the earth as well, and how it (and life on it) has been affected by these things. There’ll be asteroids and planetary science of course, and maybe other things. I know from hearing some chatter of the program makers that there’ll be lots of demos using impacts and collisions and so forth. I know some good people were involved in making it, such as the writer/director Laura Verklan, and my friend and fellow regular on the show, JPL’s Amy Mainzer (who has an excellent blog here). […] Click to continue reading this post

The Universe: Season 4

the_universeI learned* a short while ago that the fourth season of The Universe on the History Channel starts tonight! As you may have read from a number of posts of mine over the last couple of months (see e.g. here, here and here), there’s been a lot of filming for this new cluster of episodes. I actually thought it was all going to start airing in the Fall, so this is a surprise to me.

There are some fun topics coming up in this season. There’ll be plenty of interesting things to learn, with contributions from a variety of interesting scientists telling you […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXIX – Dune

death_valley_shoot_2_1There was a 24 hour period from 3:30pm Monday to 3:30pm Tuesday where I was engaged in a seemingly insane enterprise. My original plan was to document it here as one of my “24”-style blog posts, but since about 9 hours of it involved nothing but me screaming along to various songs (there’s something marvellous about singing “Roooooxx–anne!!! You don’t have to wear that dress tonight!!!….” and repeating “Put on the Red Light! Put on the Red Light!…” while whizzing along – fast!- on a road trip. I don’t know why), and five and a half hours asleep, I’ll spare you the details of each hour.

So what was the mission? To head to Death Valley. Yes, one of the hottest places on earth at this time of year! Why? To film something for The Universe (that History channel series I sometimes appear on). After my experiences of last Monday, you’d think I’d swear off hot filming situations for a while, but there you go. The physics involved is interesting, and it was an opportunity to get across some rather fun and interesting material (that you don’t usually see on TV) and so I went for it.

So since I had an afternoon meeting at 2:00pm with a Dean and some other […] Click to continue reading this post

Heat Exhaustion…

Well, that was a hugely tiring day indeed. I’ve just returned from a full day of shooting for an episode of the the leffeHistory Channel’s The Universe, and all I can do is collapse on the sofa for a long while.

I’ve grabbed the essentials (a nice cold Leffe, some tasty corn chips, a cup of tea – I made it before I got the Leffe idea – , some books I’m reading, etc) to have within easy reach so that I need not get up for a while. I simply don’t want to.

It was tiring mostly because it was so terribly hot for most of it. The first half of the […] Click to continue reading this post