Can science and art ever be playmates? As much as both these fields thrive every day at UCLA, they also divide our campus into two halves, north and south. But the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), which is also home to the Art | Sci Center, dedicates a space solely to collaborations between scientists and filmmakers, aptly named the Science and Entertainment Exchange.
Today, with movies like "Interstellar" (2014) and "Gravity (2013) turning our attention to outer space, Rick Loverd, who directs the National Academy of Science program at CNSI, reports that the relationship between art and science is alive and well and better than ever.
“Ten years ago, in Hollywood, it did not matter whatsoever whether the black hole was depicted correctly,” he said. “Audiences have gotten savvier, and people have gotten more interested in science.”
Art and science seemed to intersect when "Interstellar," in which a crew of astronauts travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humankind, premiered just three days after physics and astronomy professor Andrea Ghez's groundbreaking discovery that a long-mysterious object in a black hole at the center of the Milky Way is most likely two merged stars cloaked in dust and gas.
Since the launch of the exchange in 2008, it has been busy connecting expert scientists with storytellers to bring scientific accuracy to the big screen and spike curiosity in the sciences. The program launched with help from already-established Hollywood insiders Jerry Zucker, director of "Airplane!" (1980) and "Ghost" (1990) and his wife, producer Janet. The exchange does not charge for its services, and, no matter the size of your IMDb filmography, there is no discrimination between consultations.
Filmmakers find all sorts of assistance at the Science and Entertainment Exchange. For instance, sci-fi aficianado Kevin Peter Hickerson, a postdoctoral scholar in UCLA's Department of Physics and Astronomy, collaborated in the making of the superhero Marvel blockbuster "Thor," from finalizing the script to assisting with set production.
“One of the things I was very insistent on is that it has to be messy,” said Hickerson. “I took them on a tour of our lab, and I said nuclear physics is messy. Hollywood always makes labs too clean and sterile, and that’s just not how they look.”
The exchange’s services include arranging tours of all sorts of laboratories for entertainment pros to learn more about real-life science scenarios. Several times, the exchange has enabled science to become a source of inspiration for moviemakers. “A showrunner went into this lab at Berkeley and saw one of the lab techs had pink hair," said Loverd. "And in the next season of "Eureka!" (a 2006-12 TV series), there was a pink-haired girl in the show.”
With more than 60 UCLA faculty members and a large database of science consultants to tap, the exchange can provide answers to all kinds of scientific inquiries, from coding for the recently released movie "Blackhat" to robot engineering for the 2015 Academy Award-nominated animated film "Big Hero 6."
If the Science and Entertainment Exchange is any indication, the relationship between storytelling and science in the future will be just fine.