Skip to main content

When Science and Entertainment Work Together

“We’re here to inspire filmmakers,” says Rick Loverd, Program Manager of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences. “We’re here to provide mainstream media content creators with great science.” Launched in 2008, the Exchange works to connect writers, producers, and industry executives with scientists and engineers, both to improve the overall quality of science in mainstream entertainment and to break down negative stereotypes of scientists themselves. On this week’s podcast, we delve into the world of science consulting, exploring what it takes to pull off a successful collaboration. According to Loverd, the key is to put the story first and try to find organic ways to ground it in science. “I don’t think you can steer Hollywood creatives toward something. You can just give them a better idea.”

That’s how the 2011 Marvel blockbuster Thor ended up with a backstory grounded in theoretical physics. When Caltech physicist Sean M. Carroll suggested that the title character travel to Earth via an Einstein-Rosen Bridge — a wormhole — the character of Jane Foster, originally a nurse, became a particle astrophysicist instead. That gave her a plausible reason be out in the desert of New Mexico when Thor arrives, explains UCLA postdoctoral scholar Kevin Peter Hickerson. Thinking through the physics to flesh out the backstory, Hickerson helped Marvel producers construct Jane Foster’s laboratory, which (in the movie) relies on high energy physics to detect signatures of dark matter coming from Thor’s hammer. “That was the sort of way in which, very organically to their creative process, a scientist was able to drop some facts and help the filmmakers make something feel slightly more plausible,” says Loverd.

The Jane Foster character also allowed Disney, in partnership with the Exchange and others, to launch the Ultimate Mentor Adventure, a contest aimed at empowering girls to explore careers in science and engineering. “To be able to have a strong female character in a summer popcorn movie talking about Einstein-Rosen Bridges can really do a lot to get kids interested in science,” says Loverd, “and once that character exists, you can leverage that opportunity to create all sorts of teachable moments.”

Among recent science fiction movies, last year’s Interstellar stands out for its physics-driven plot and stunning visual effects. Hickerson, who has engaged in several lively public debates on the science of Interstellar since its release, thinks the bar has been raised for science in Hollywood. “I think you can see now that audiences respond to it,” he says, and besides, “It’s making everyone in Hollywood treat scientists like rockstars now, and I have zero complaints with that!”

Podcast and post by Meg Rosenburg


  1. Often it is very easy to discover our potential by doing the best thing which we love. Some people might be good at languages, some at writings and others at mathematical skills. The things in which we are intuitively great show our potentiality. As you continue to discover your own potential you may find answers to the below questions:
    1. Is there something I really wished to do or achieve?
    2. Did I ever think to improve it?
    3. Was there any time in my life, I could have benefited with these potentials?
    The answer to these questions can really help you to know what your potential is all about. Look to your past. There will be some activity that you were really good at. A point where you dreamt of doing great things but as time went by, that potential in you shrunk back to some unknown area of your mind. Try to remember those dreams and ambitions which surely hold clues about your potential.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts

How 4,000 Physicists Gave a Vegas Casino its Worst Week Ever

What happens when several thousand distinguished physicists, researchers, and students descend on the nation’s gambling capital for a conference? The answer is "a bad week for the casino"—but you'd never guess why.

Ask a Physicist: Phone Flash Sharpie Shock!

Lexie and Xavier, from Orlando, FL want to know: "What's going on in this video ? Our science teacher claims that the pain comes from a small electrical shock, but we believe that this is due to the absorption of light. Please help us resolve this dispute!"

The Science of Ice Cream: Part One

Even though it's been a warm couple of months already, it's officially summer. A delicious, science-filled way to beat the heat? Making homemade ice cream. (We've since updated this article to include the science behind vegan ice cream. To learn more about ice cream science, check out The Science of Ice Cream, Redux ) Image Credit: St0rmz via Flickr Over at Physics@Home there's an easy recipe for homemade ice cream. But what kind of milk should you use to make ice cream? And do you really need to chill the ice cream base before making it? Why do ice cream recipes always call for salt on ice?