'Can They Really do That?' UNC Charlotte Presents Science Film Series

Monday, March 10, 2014

CHARLOTTE - March 10, 2014 - Artificially intelligent cell phones; World-wrecking environmental catastrophes; Matter transporters; Genetically engineered dinosaurs;  Invisibility cloaking. If you are an average American, many of the things that you think are most interesting in science, and an even bigger part of what you know about science comes from watching science-related films.

With this in mind, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has developed a series of free public film screenings for the NC Science Festival designed to appreciate, criticize and examine the role movies play in communicating science to the public.

From March 29 to April 9 The UNC Charlotte Science Film Series will present four free full-length films and follow each showing with a discussion led by a panel of real-life scientists and other authorities aimed at discussing the film’s merits and the truth or fiction of the science it portrays.

The series begins Saturday, March 29 at 7 pm in the UNC Charlotte Center City Building Auditorium, as UNC Charlotte and co-host Discovery Place present “Contagion” a 2011 realistic science fiction thriller, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Concerning a deadly, rapidly spreading epidemic disease, “Contagion” was widely lauded for its scientific realism when it was released and a panel of experts including UNC Charlotte science-in-film authority Ian Binns, Charlotte Observer medical reporter Karen Garloch,  and UNC Charlotte epidemic disease authority Daniel Janies  will discuss the truth of that claim and discuss with the audience the realities of epidemics in the modern world.

But not all science in film attempts to be realistic. Based on a somewhat more scientifically possible story by Orson Wells involving an optical scientist working with refraction, the 1933 classic science fiction/horror movie “The Invisible Man” (directed by James Whale, starring Claude Rains) drops the science in favor of a nearly magical invisibility medicine, being content to merely frighten the audience with the fantastic concept of invisibility itself. The film will be shown is a Sunday 3 p.m. matinee on March 30 at the Center City Building Auditorium.

However, even fantastically speculative science fiction can turn out to be prescient, as a post-film discussion led by UNC Charlotte light chemist Marcus Jones  and optical scientist Greg Gbur  will reveal. Jones is a nanotechnologist who looks at the strange interactions of matter and light at the mysterious quantum level and Gbur studies light phenomena, including the very real possibilities for engineering invisibility. Gbur is also an authority on horror fiction and film, and he authors a popular blog about both fiction and science entitled “Skulls in the Stars.”

Following the release of the 1993 blockbuster movie “Jurassic Park” (directed by Steven Spielberg),  the original novel’s author Michael Crichton once explained to a group of science writers that he did not consider the liberties he took with science to be significant because communicating complicated science to the public is like a rocket launch: “I’m the powerful first stage of the rocket,” he said. “I can lift a very large audience, but only so far. Your job is to be the upper stages and to take them the rest of the way there.”  The film will be shown in a Sunday matinee on April 6 at 3 p.m. in EPIC G256 and will be followed by a discussion led by a panel of scientists.

Assessing the accuracy and value of the movie’s science will be vertebrate biologist Susan Peters,  evolutionary biologist Adam Reitzel and genomic scientist Jennifer Weller , all from the UNC Charlotte faculty.

The series concludes with the 2012 documentary film “Chasing Ice” (directed by Jeff Orlowski), which attempts to be both scientifically accurate and convincing regarding the complex climate science involving  the controversial issue of global climate change. The film will be shown on Wednesday, April 9 at 7 pm in EPIC G256, with a panel-led discussion to follow.

The panel for the film will include both UNC Charlotte scientists Matthew Eastin, a climatologist, and  Martha Epps, a geologist who studies the paleoclimate record and WCNC TV meteorologists  John Wendell and Meghan Danahey, who see the issue from both short-term and long-term perspectives.

In addition to the Faculty Lecture Series,  UNC Charlotte is sponsoring a host of public events for the NC Science Festival (March 28-April 13), including a Guest Lecture Series (two events), a Faculty Lecture Series (four events), a Star Party, and the UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo, a large exhibition of science and technology from UNC Charlotte and the greater Charlotte community on April 13 at the Union Mall on the UNC Charlotte campus.

All events are free and open to the public.

For event locations, maps and more information, see http://ncsciencefestival.uncc.edu  or call 704-687-5743. All events are sponsored by UNC Charlotte in association with the NC Science Festival. University sponsors include UNC Charlotte Research and Economic Development, the College of Computing and Informatics, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the College of Education, the College of Health and Human Services and the Graduate School. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and Discovery Place are community partners and WFAE 90.7 fm is a media partner.



Media relations contact:  JIm Hathaway, jbhathaw@uncc.edu, 704-687-5743

Media note: photos of events, including lecturers and panelists are available at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ne02c8lgb2swbrh/zlc3nf04K1  For assistance, contact Jim Hathaway.