About a week and a half ago, scientists achieved a remarkable evolutionary stepping stone in the technological holy grail of eventually engineering synthetic life. Nicknamed ‘Synthia’ by her experimental progenitors, the latest discovery is a viable, self-propagating yeast cell hosting a bacterial Mycoplasma mycoides genome (consisting of non-biological DNA) purely composed in the laboratory. In eerily apt timing, Splice, a new science fiction thriller premiering this week, explores the scientific ramifications and bioethical morass encompassing the creation of a human-animal hybrid by a rogue superstar genetics couple. Under the “continue reading” cut, ScriptPhD.com’s review of Splice, discussion of the expanding frontiers of genetic engineering, and a special video interview with the director/writer, producer and stars of the film.
Society’s unequivocal fascination with science and scientists, reflected by a growing presence as staples of film, television, and popular culture, has only been magnified by the enigmatic (and seemingly impenetrable) aura in which they are enveloped. Their studies decidedly abstruse, their coded language unintelligible, their habits quirky and eccentric, the world of the scientist has been an audiovisual shroud of mystery—until now. In perhaps the most authentic, unfiltered, extemporaneous portrayal of scientists in their environment ever recorded, new documentary Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist welcomes the lay audience into the laboratory as silent observers. No reservations, no restrictions, no preconceptions. The result is an emotionally stunning masterpiece that connects us to scientists as people, reaches out across professional divides, and places PhD students, the backbone of the modern scientific laboratory, under the microscope for the first time. ScriptPhD.com recently screened the movie with a group of UCLA PhD biology students. Under the “continue reading” cut is our review, along with an honest roundtable discussion that included reaction to the movie, its parallel to their lives, and the training of modern scientists.
Continue reading ScriptPhD Roundtable: Naturally Obsessed—The Making of a Scientist
When it comes to the interface of art and science, in many ways Madison Avenue finds itself in the position of the early days of sci-fi entertainment, where campy, unrefined productions took decades to evolve into the sophisticated films and shows we enjoy today. To be brutally honest, 95% of current science and technology advertising ranges from hackneyed to terrible; unimaginative, uncreative, uninspired. But here at ScriptPhD.com, we want to focus on the superlative 5%. What makes these campaigns work, what elevates their content above the crowd and most importantly, how do they fit within the theme of the science or industry they are promoting? This is why we are expanding our umbrella of coverage—which has heretofore included film, television and media—to the final frontier: advertising. In our brand new series entitled “Selling Science Smartly,” we will profile the best that science and technology advertising (print, TV, radio, digital and everything in-between) has to offer. Where possible, we will interview the respective campaign’s agencies and creative teams to give you a rarely revealed behind-the-scenes purview into the process and foundation of making these ads. We are proud to launch the series with the exceptional Dow Human Element campaign, including an in-depth interview with Creative Director and mastermind John Claxton of Draftfcb Chicago, who breaks down the thought process behind the creation of the campaign.
You spot someone across a crowded room. There is eye contact. Your heart beats a little faster, palms are sweaty, you’re light-headed, and your suddenly-squeamish stomach has dropped to your knees. You’re either suffering from an onset of food poisoning or you’re in love. But what does that mean, scientifically, to fall in love, to be in love, to stay in love? In our special Valentine’s Day post, Editor Jovana Grbić expounds on the neuronal and biophysical markers of love, how psychologists and mathematicians have harnessed (and sometimes manipulated) this information to foster 21st Century digital-style romance, and concludes with a personal reflection on what love really means in the face of all of this science. You might just be surprised. So, Cupid, draw back your sword… and click “continue reading” for more!
Continue reading Love is a Many-Splendored Algorithm
During a recent trip to New York City, I had the pleasure of befriending exciting new author Ernesto Robles, whose debut novel The Malthusian Catastrophe is a ScriptPhD.com recommended pick. Smart, topical, fast-paced and decidedly engrossing, this biomedical thriller drives at the roots of our cultural obsession with the fountain of youth and the perilous socioeconomic repercussions of actually finding and disseminating it. In a year when the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology went to a team of researchers for their discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase, essential biological components of the human aging machinery, and a cultural era that has anointed juvenescence as sacrosanct, Malthusians overarching themes are especially germane. ScriptPhD.coms discussion includes a review of the book, the biology and ethics of current aging research, and a one-on-one interview with Mr. Robles. For full content, please click continue reading.
One of my favorite movies as a kid, and now, as a professional scientist, is Andromeda Strain. The heroes are mostly older, professorial types who work feverishly to understand an alien organism and save the planet. After being asked to review ReAction! Chemistry in the Movies for ScriptPhD.com, I was so curious to consume (with relish) the book’s guesswork about the chemistry found in Andromeda Strain. After returning to the beginning of the book and giving it a read, I was thrilled to find that ReAction! is a detailed, thoughtful exploration of the representation of chemistry in film. The book addresses, first and foremost, the fact that chemistry can play a lead role in film. The authors also discuss the dichotomy between the dark and bright sides of chemistry (and science) as illustrated by films in which chemistry or chemists play a central role. Also included are several playful explorations of the real science behind some famous examples of fictional chemistry in film. After the break is a full review of the book along with an in-depth interview with authors Mark Griep and Majorie Mikasen on the process of working together as chemist and artist, portrayal of chemists in film and how film can change public perception in science.
First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itselfnameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. These inspiring words, borrowed from scribes Henry David Thoreau and Michel de Montaigne, were spoken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his first inauguration during the only era more perilous than the one we currently face. But FDR had it easy. All he had to face was 25% unemployment and 2 million homeless Americans. We have, among other things, climate change, carcinogens, leaky breast implants, the obesity epidemic, the West Nile virus, SARS, avian/swine flu, flesh-eating disease, pedophiles, predators, herpes, satanic cults, mad cow disease, crack cocaine, and lets not forget that paragon of Malthusian-like fatalismterror. In his brilliant book The Science of Fear, journalist Daniel Gardner delves into the psychology and physiology of fear and the incendiary factors that drive it, including media, advertising, government, business and our own evolutionary mold. For our final blog post of 2009, ScriptPhD.com extends the science into a personal reflection, a discussion of why, despite there never having been a better time to be alive, we are more afraid than ever, and how we can turn a more rational leaf in the year 2010.
The famous French scientist Louis Pasteur once said, There are no such things as applied sciences, only applications of science. As a nation we are continuing to find ourselves in increasingly difficult economic times. Our state and federally elected leaders are constantly under pressure to make difficult appropriations decisions at all levels of their budgets. At the federal level, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), our nations primary investor of biomedical research funding, is no exception during this economy. A recent New York Times article, The Science of Spending Stimulus Money Wisely, questioned the value of funding basic research at the cost of immediate jobs and dividends. Indeed, a central question regarding the public financing of biomedical research emerges more routinely: How do we strike the right balance between the funding of basic research and the funding of applied research? What is the value of each to scientific development, the pursuit of knowledge, and most importantly, mankind? These question have been debated for generations, largely because there is no right answer. There is no exact formula, or panel of experts that will be able to determine the exact dollar amount which should be spent in each area, nor is there a correct percentage by which the money should be divided between the two areas. The following article postulates that continued funding and public understanding of basic research, the foundation for all applied research, is the smartest long-term investment of all.
Continue reading Why Science is the Ultimate Blue-Chip Investment