Science in films

by Stephanie Chasteen on June 1, 2007

I recently heard a talk about using science films to teach a science class. How fun! Even when they get the science wrong (which they often do), it’s a good springboard for talking about science. In Armageddon, for example, Bruce Willis blows apart an asteroid about to hit earth. Would that work? Well, disregarding the fact that it was raining (!) on the asteroid at the time, the instructor has the class actually calculate the effect that the blast would have on the trajectory of the asteroid. It’s so massive, and moving so fast, that the megaton bomb that Willis plants would only have made the two pieces land about a mile apart on earth (instead of parting like the Red Sea to sail safely on either side of the earth, as in the movie.)

Another interesting thing about movies is that they reflect the scientific issues — and the public’s concern over them, such as global warming (The Day After Tomorrow), space exporation (2001), or cloning (Jurassic Park). Movies also affect us emotionally, much more so than a written article or textbook, and so is a great way to hook people into talking about science. Many of the top films nowadays are science fiction, so why not use them to inspire young people?

The speaker was Sydney Perkowicz. He’s got a book out on the topic , “Hollywood Science,” which won’t be out until later this year. He breaks films down into some useful categories, such as:

Planet Killers (Deep Impact, When Worlds Collide, Armageddon)
Unnatural Disasters (Soylent Green, Waterworld, Day after Tomorrow)
Cloning & Genetics (Gattaca, Jurassic Park)

Sidney Perkowitz’s website


Roger June 10, 2007 at 7:36 am

Hi Steph,

Agree with what you say. Did you see the British sc-fi film ‘Sunshine’? Your musings on it would be interesting from a pure scientific perspective.

great blog. Love the picture header.

Roger 🙂

sciencegeekgirl June 10, 2007 at 8:32 am

No, I haven’t seen Sunshine, unfortunately! Either the movie or the real thing, living here in foggy San Francisco.

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