Category Archives: Interview

Podcast: Selling Science Smartly: IBM Watson Campaign

In 2011, a cognitive supercomputing system developed at IBM named “Watson” was pitted against, and subsequently defeated, two of the most successful Jeopardy! game-show contestants of all time. A project five years in the making, Watson was initially developed as a “Grand Challenge” successor to Deep Blue, the machine that beat Gary Kasparov at chess, and was a prototype for DeepQA, a question/answer natural language analysis architecture. Since his Jeopardy! triumph, however, Watson has been successfully applied towards improving health care, oncology, business applications and soon enough… even education. At the same time that IBM has been expanding Watson’s cognitive computing abilities, they’ve also been brilliantly marketing him to the general public through a series of traditional and interactive ads.

As part of our ongoing “Selling Science Smartly” series, we analyze the Watson campaign in more depth and feature an exclusive and insightful podcast conversation with the IBM marketing team behind it.
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How Animation Technology Is Helping Scientists Visualize Data

A spiral galaxy in the Dorado constellation created by a black hole. Technology from the film Interstellar is helping scientists gain greater understanding of this phenomenon. (credit: Roberto Colombari/Stocktrek Images/Corbis)

From its earliest inceptions, science fiction has blurred the line between reality and technological fantasy in a remarkably prescient manner. Many of the discoveries and gadgets that have integrated seamlessly into modern life were first preconceived theoretically. More recently, the technologies behind ultra-realistic visual and motion capture effects are simultaneously helping scientists as research tools on a granular level in real time. The dazzling visual effects within the time-jumping space film Interstellar included creating original code for a physics-based ultra-realistic depiction of what it would be like to orbit around and through a black hole. Astrophysics researchers soon utilized the film’s code to visualize black hole surfaces and their effects on nearby objects. Virtual reality, whose initial development was largely rooted in imbuing realism into the gaming and video industries, has advanced towards multi-purpose applications in film, technology and science. The Science Channel is augmenting traditional programming with a ‘virtual experience’ to simulate the challenges and scenarios of an astronaut’s journey into space; VR-equipped GoPro cameras are documenting remote research environments to foster scientific collaboration and share knowledge; it’s even being implemented in health care for improving training, diagnosis and treatment concepts. The ability to record high-definition film of landscapes and isolated areas with drones, which will have an enormous impact on cinematography, carries with it the simultaneous capacity to aid scientists and health workers with disaster relief, wildlife conservation and remote geomapping.

The evolution of entertainment industry technology is sophisticated, computationally powerful and increasingly cross-functional. A cohort of interdisciplinary researchers at Northwestern University is adapting computing and screen resolution developed at DreamWorks Animation Studios as a vehicle for data visualization, innovation and producing more rapid and efficient results. Their efforts, detailed below, and a collective trend towards integration of visual design in interpreting complex research, portends a collaborative future between science and entertainment.
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Podcast: Disrupting Incubator Innovation With “Lab Launch”

Front entrance of LA-based Lab Launch scientific incubator hub.

The current scientific landscape can best be thought of as a transitional one. With the proliferation of scientific innovation and the role that technology plays in our lives, along with the demand for more of these breakthroughs, comes the simultaneous challenge of balancing affordable lab space, funding and opportunity for young investigators and inventors to shape their companies and test novel projects. Los Angeles science incubator Lab Launch is trying to simplify the process through a revolutionary, not-for-profit approach that serves as a proof of concept for an eventual interconnected network of “discovery hubs”. Founder Llewelyn Cox sits down with ScriptPhD for an insightful podcast that assesses the current scientific climate, the backdrop that catalyzed Lab Launch, and why alternatives to traditional avenues of research are critical for fueling the 21st Century economy.
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Profile: ‘ER’ Writer/Medical Advisor Channels Storytelling Towards Social Activism

Television writer, producer, activist and practicing pediatrician Neal Baer, MD.
Television writer, producer, activist and practicing pediatrician Neal Baer, MD.

It has become compulsory for modern medical (or scientifically-relevant) shows to rely on a team of advisors and experts for maximal technical accuracy and verisimilitude on screen. Many of these shows have become so culturally embedded that they’ve changed people’s perceptions and influenced policy. Even the Gates Foundation has partnered with popular television shows to embed important storyline messages pertinent to public health, HIV prevention and infectious diseases. But this was not always the case. When Neal Baer joined ER as a young writer and simultaneous medical student, he became the first technical expert to be subsumed as an official part of a production team. His subsequent canon of work has reshaped the integration of socially relevant issues in television content, but has also ushered in an age of public health awareness in Hollywood, and outreach beyond it. Dr. Baer sat down with ScriptPhD to discuss how lessons from ER have fueled his public health efforts as a professor and founder of UCLA’s Global Media Center For Social Impact, including storytelling through public health metrics and leveraging digital technology for propelling action.
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Editor’s Selection: Robots Invade Summer Television

Image ©MIT, all rights reserved.
Image ©MIT, all rights reserved.

From a sci-fi and entertainment perspective, 2015 may undoubtedly be nicknamed “The Year of The Robot.” Several cinematic releases have already explored various angles of futuristic artificial intelligence (from the forgettable Chappie to the mainstream blockbuster Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron to the intelligent sleeper indie hit Ex Machina), with several more on the way later this year. Two television series premiering this summer, limited series Humans on AMC and Mr. Robot on USA add thoughtful, layered (and very entertaining) discussions on the ethics and socio-economic impact of the technology affecting the age we live in. While Humans revolves around hyper-evolved robot companions, and Mr. Robot a singular shadowy eponymous cyberhacking organization, both represent enthusiastic Editor’s Selection recommendations from ScriptPhD. Reviews and an exclusive interview with Humans creators/writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent below.
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From The Lab: Pharmaceutical Documentary a Blueprint for Hollywood Science Storytelling

A vial of the breast cancer drug Herceptin. Image ©Reuters, all rights reserved.

“It’s like a war. You don’t know whether you’re going to win the war. You don’t know if you’re going to survive the war. You don’t know if the project is going to survive the war.” The war? Cancer, still one of the leading causes of death despite 40 years passing since the National Cancer Act of 1971 catapulted Richard Nixon’s famous “War on Cancer.” The speaker of the above quote? A scientist at Genentech, a San Francisco-based biotechnology and pharmaceutical company, describing efforts to pursue a then-promising miracle treatment for breast cancer facing numerous obstacles, not the least of which was the patients’ rapid illness. If it sounds like a made-for-Hollywood story, it is. But I Want So Much To Live is no ordinary documentary. It was commissioned as an in-house documentary by Genentech, a rarity in the staid, secretive scientific corporate world. The production values and storytelling offer a tremendous template for Hollywood filmmakers, as science and biomedical content become even more pervasive in film. Finally, the inspirational story behind Herceptin, one of the most successful cancer treatments of all time, offers a testament and rare insight to the dedication and emotion that makes science work. Full story and review under the “continue reading” cut.
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REVIEW: Wide ‘Awake’: New Sci-Fi Series Takes on Sleep Science

Awake, and all images and screenshots, ©2012 NBC Universal, all rights reserved

As far back as last summer, when pilots for the current television season were floating around, a quirky sci-fi show for NBC called Awake caught our eye as the best of the lot. Camouflaged in a standard procedural cop show is an ambitious neuroscience concept—a man living in two simultaneous dream worlds, either of which (or neither of which) could be real. We got a look at the first four episodes of the show, which lay a nice foundation for the many thought-provoking questions that will be addressed. We review them here, as well as answering some questions of our own about the sleep science behind the show with UCLA sleep expert Dr. Alon Avidan.
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Podcast: Designing California Science Center’s ‘Ecosystems’ Exhibit

The free 'Ecosystems' exhibit at the California Science Center. Photography ©2011, all rights reserved.

In April of 2010, the California Science Center added a 45,000 square foot permanent exhibit called ‘Ecosystems,’ nearly doubling the size of the museum. Ten years in the making, at a cost of $165 million, ‘Ecosystems’ manages to impress visually and scholastically. recently got a private tour and in-depth guide of the ambitious exhibit and didactic tool. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to sit down with the man that conceptualized ‘Ecosystems’ and curator of ecology at the California Science Center — Dr. Chuck Kopczak. An avid geologist, and devoted to the promulgation of quality science education, Dr. Chuck graciously sat down with us for an in-depth conversation about ‘Ecosystems,’ the future of science education, and energizing environmental causes through science. Our full tour and podcast, under the “continue reading” cut.
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Interview: Michio Kaku and The Physics of the Future

Physics of the Future images and all content ©2011 Doubleday Publishing.

Dr. Michio Kaku recently consolidated his position as America’s most visible physicist by acting as the voice of the science community to major news outlets in the wake of Japan’s major earthquake and the recent Fukushima nuclear crisis. Dr. Kaku is one of those rare and prized few

who possesses both the hard science chops (he built an atom smasher in his garage for a high school science fair and is a co-founder of string theory) and the ability to reduce quantum physics and space time to layman’s terms. The author of Physics of the Impossible has also followed up with a new book, Physics of the Future, that aims to convey how these very principles will change the future of science and its impact in our daily modern life. (Make sure to enter our Facebook fan giveaway to win a free copy this week!) Dr. Kaku graciously sat down with’s physics and astronomy blogger, Stephen Compson, to talk about the recent earthquake, popular science in an entertainment-driven world, and his latest book. Full interview under the “continue reading” cut.
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REVIEW: The Naked Lady Who Stood On Her Head

The Naked Lady Who Stood On Her Head ©2010 William Morrow Publishing, all rights reserved.

One of the most captivating books of 2010 was not a gory science-fiction thriller or a gripping end-of-the world page-turner, though its subject matter is equally engrossing and out of the ordinary. It is about somewhat crazy people doing crazy things as seen through the lenses of the man that has been treating them for decades. The Naked Lady Who Stood On Her Head is the first psych ward memoir, a tale of a curious doctor/scientist and his most extreme, bizarre, and sometimes touching cases from the nation’s most prestigious neurology centers and universities. Included in’s review is a podcast interview with Dr. Small, as well as the opportunity to win a free autographed copy of his book. Our end-of-the year science library pick is under the “continue reading” cut.

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