Scientist biographies

H. Thomas Milorn's books The History of Physics and The History of Astronomy and Astrophysics provide coverage of major concepts and hundreds of one-page biographies of people involved in these areas.

Milhorn's books, and others like them, can be useful for developing ideas for characters and stories while learning and developing ideas about how to familiarise people with scientific concepts with stories for cinema and fiction.

They can also be useful for researching historical periods for cinema and fiction set in the past.

Science in the news

This article fom The National Academies is about nuclear security. It is an example of how issues of crucial scientific issues can be behind news headlines.

The National Academies website can be useful for helping to develop story ideas for cinema and fiction which explore scientific issues that people also have some familiarity with through news reports.

Nuclear Fusion

Scientists at a research lab in the US are preparing an attempt to create a nuclear fusion reaction. Whereas nuclear fission in a power plant involves splitting atoms, nuclear fusion as occurs in stars involves fusing atoms together.

If these scientists were to succeed, it could provide a vast source of energy much greater than what can be obtained by burning the Earth's fossil fuels.

According to John Sutter, in this CNN article, "If they're successful, the scientists hope to solve the global energy crisis by harnessing the energy generated by the mini-star."

The ability to harness energy from human-made nuclear fusion reactions can provide a range of options for future scenarios in cinema and fiction.

Hubble 20th anniversary image

The 20th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope has been marked by a new image showing a section of a 3 lightyear high gas plume 7,500 lightyears from Earth in the Carina nebula.

This article on has further details.

The image is a made up from a composite of images from numerous sensors which detect different frequencies of light (or electromagnetic radiation - of which part of the spectrum is detected by unassisted human sight as visible light).

Images from Hubble feature in the below video:

Research station settings for cinema and fiction

In this article on, Andrew Blum has provided profiles of 6 Antarctic research stations; Princess Elisabeth Station (Germany), Concordia Station (France and Italy), Neumayer Station (Germany), Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (USA), Halley Station (UK) and Sanae Station (South Africa).

Scientific research stations can be interesting settings for cinema and fiction with scientific subject matter.

Brain-machine interfaces

This article on is about a Japanese initiative to develop head-sets with sensors which can detect certain kinds of brain activity, allowing devices to be controlled by brain activity.

According to the article, the Nikkei daily has reported that the Japanese government plans to have mind-machine interface devices, co-developed with a consortium of Japanese companies, available within a decade.

New technology like this can provide a variety of story options for cinema and fiction. For example, a character could learn through familiarity with such devices and how they work that intricate details that the character thought they knew about supposed mechanical processes of the mind and how people relate to one another is just unfounded speculation.


The following video shows an experiment from the University of Texas in which an adult teaches children and chimpanzees how to open a puzzle box and retrieve food from inside. The catch is the teacher includes superfluous steps into how they teach. In the experiment, the chimpanzees are often better than the children at solving the puzzle box without also imitating the superfluous steps.

If you are inclined to explain why this happened according to some idea of mirror neurons, social learning theory, etc, ask yourself: Why do you think that solves the question of why the children incorporate unnecessary steps into their learning, while the chimps are able to figure out that they are superfluous? Do you think your own learning about how you would explain this has unecessary steps incorporated which might have produced an erroneous conclusion?

Many stories for cinema and fiction prominently feature characters who come to learn something they had formerly been unable to comprehend. Learning about learning can help writers to develop characters, stories and plots while also thinking about what people may be learning about those characters, stories and plots as they experience them.

Nano scale biological imaging

This article on features news about nano scale cantilevers. The term cantilever is usually used in engineering to refer to a structure in which there are overhanging beams. Using cantilevers on a scale small enough to insert into biological cells, nanotechnicians can design each microscopic beam to attract some substances and not others. The increased weight on each beam created by attracting specific substances changes the frequency of a laser beam bounced off it. Using these nano devices and precision lasers, it is possible to detect the presence or absence of substances within an individual cells and parts of cells and to build images on a microscopic scale. According to the article:

...scientists with the Molecular Foundry, a U.S. Department of Energy User Facility located at Berkeley Lab, have developed nano-sized cantilevers whose gentle touch could help discern the workings of living cells and other soft materials in their natural, liquid environment. Used in combination with a revolutionary detection mechanism, this new imaging tool is sensitive enough to investigate soft materials without the limitations present in other cantilevers. [...]
Rather than measuring the cantilever's deflection by bouncing a laser off it, Ashby and Sanii place the nanowire cantilever in the focus of a laser beam and detect the resulting light pattern, pinpointing the nanowire's position with high resolution. The duo say this work provides a launching pad for building a nanowire-based atomic force microscopes that could be used to study biological cells and model cellular components such as vesicles or bilayers. In particular, Ashby and Sanii hope to learn more about integrins, proteins found on the surface of cells that mediate adhesion and are part of signaling pathways linked to cell growth and migration.

An accessible basic description of their use in cancer research can be found at

New species

According to an article on, 123 new species have been discovered on Borneo island over the past three years.

New species can provide subject matter for a range of cinema and fiction, from the blood orchid in Anaconda to the giant gorilla in Mighty Joe Young or the extra terrestrials in District 9.

They can be used to inject specific types of scientific subject matter into a story, whether related to biology, psychology across species, immunology (for viruses and disease carrying organisms) and so on.

Cognitive Training

This research paper on, due to be published in the print version of Nature, is about a study on computerised 'brain training' exercises and whether they produce transferrable skills useful for general cognitive tasks. The researchers concluded, in part, that:

In our view these results provide no evidence to support the widely
held belief that the regular use of computerized brain trainers
improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants
beyond those tasks that are actually being trained.

Further discussion can be found in this article.

Scientific discovery and the people involved

This link is to an article on about the discovery of the world's deepest known underwater thermal vent.

As indicated in the post Character subtleties in science focused cinema and fiction, there are people involved in carrying out such voyages of discovery and considering the personal aspects of these people's lives can help in developing engaging characters.

Below is a video of a sea shanty performance titled Ballad of a Modern Graduate Student:

Geological events

The eruption of an Icelandic volcano called Eyjafjallajokull and the resultant dust cloud provides an example of how geological events can impact on people's lives, sometimes on a very large scale. Geological events like this can provide subject matter for various kinds of stories for cinema and fiction.

This video from features a helicopter fly-over of the site of the eruption, a map indicating the range of the cloud's spread over Europe, and a trip into the 'restricted zone' below the dust cloud.

Here is an article on with background details on Eyjafjallajokull.

Below is time-lapse video of the dust cloud coming out of the volcano:

The following video features closer views of the erupting volcano:

Below is a video of a person interacting with the still glowing crust of the lava:

Cinema and Science (CISCI)

The site Cinema and Science, or CISCI for short, is a site that has lots of resources relating film scenes to various areas of science. According to their About Us page:

CISCI combines the two most popular media among youngsters, namely movies and the internet, aiming to stimulate interest in science.

CISCI contains scenes from blockbusters and movies with scientific explanations and descriptions that serve to illustrate scientific concepts analysing their (pseudo)-scientific contents from for example in physics, chemistry, life-sciences and mathematics. The core of the website Cinema und Science (CISCI) consists of downloadable scientific explanations of many movie scenes that are continuously expanding. For some movies you will also find the corresponding video clips as download, for blockbusters because of copyright reasons you need the movie for instance on DVD. In this case we give the time interval that you need for the access of the movie scene. This method is used successfully in many schools.

CISCI provides these new innovative classroom resources for school teachers and their pupils.

Cinema and Science is supported by the European Commission and its Nucleus programme, "a cluster of EU projects funded by the European Commission's Directorate General for Research, as part of the European Science Education Initiative."

Maths and movies

If you did maths in high school and wondered when someone would ever use it in real life, this may provide you with some answers. This article by the American Mathematical Society on has details of how maths is used in computer animation for movies.

The greater the animators knowledge of how to approximate physical phenomena in mathematical terms the more realistic their computer animation can be.

This article contains details on the use of maths and science in solving crimes. This has been explored in the TV show Numb3rs.

This article features details on computational modelling of liquids.

Broaden your experience to be more creatively competent

The more you experience and learn by observing for yourself, the more capably you can portray a range of different subject matter for cinema and fiction, and avoid cliched depictions.

Here is a video from of a Giant Pacific Octopus and its keeper at an aquarium.

Observing animals can also be a good way to help develop original animal characters for cinema and fiction, as discussed in the post Animal intelligence and character psychology.

Europe Science Education Media website

Here is a link to the Europe Science Education Media website. It offers a range of resources, including videos incorporating computer visualisations to demonstrate scientific ideas.

One such example is this video on human vision and how research using zebra fish could help people to understand eye disorders in humans.

Character subtleties in science focused cinema and fiction

While scientific ventures can be used to provide a grand backdrop for cinema and fiction, the personal touches and intimate details of the characters contribute a lot to how engaging a story will be for an audience.

In this article, Nancy Atkinson has described the tradition of the NASA Kennedy Space Center Launch Control Team enjoying a celebratory feed of beans and cornbread after a successful launch. She even includes the recipe of Norm Carlson, the member of the Launch Control Team who started the tradition when his beans and cornbread were a hit with his co-workers.

Twister is an example of a film that has a grand science-based backdrop but also a heavy emphasis on more subtle character details.

Psychology of fiction and narrative psychology

This article on focuses on narrative theory of personality and narrative therapy in relation to psychology of fiction.

There are a variety of such approaches out there. One of the biggest pitfalls among narrative approaches to psychology is confusing a story attributed to someone's life or behaviour as being their total identity. Describing someone's life by attributing a story to it does not imply that the person themself is a linguistic construct. Neither does it imply that such a story controls them rather than the other way around. These may seem like things so simple that they're not worth stating but they are very common assumptions among many who consider themself a structuralist/modernist or poststructuralist/postmodernist. Linguistic fundamentalism, under many names, is a cornerstone of much university-based Humanities study.

Science and making Avatar

Science relates to the making of cinema as well as the fictional content. Here are some videos from on aspects of the science of making the film Avatar:

Technological aspects of making Avatar

Scientific contributions to the fictional content of Avatar

Using bioinformatics data methods to detect video piracy

A new technique based on bioinformatics methods of collecting and matching data is being developed in an attempt to better detect online video piracy, according to an article in MIT's Technology Review.

In this article on, Jennifer Welsh has discussed some of the characteristics of this technique, which has been likened to 'sequencing the genomes of videos,' and how it compares to other techniques.

Characters using scientific knowledge to solve problems

When things go wrong, often scientists will be sent in to investigate or people have to use whatever scientific knowledge they have to deal with the situation at hand. This can present a range of story possibilities for cinema and fiction.

Scientific knowledge can be used to determine a way forward to solve a problem, such as a ship run aground leaking oil onto a reef, or as a way to determine what happened, as can take place after a mining accident or to rescue people caught up in such an incident.

Science and statistics

When dealing with research that involves statistical analysis, there are many ways people can get it wrong (unintentionally and intentionally). In this article on's Technology section, John Allen Paulos has written about the issue of combining data sets that have been claimed to measure something but for which the thing supposedly being measured is defined differently in the production of each set of data. This means that despite the same word being used for what was intended to be measured in both cases, the different sets of data did not measure the same thing (regardless of what words are used to describe both sets of measurements).

As Frederick Williams and Peter Monge have written in Reasoning With Statistics: How to Read Quantitative Research:

Just because a study has used statistics is no guarantee of its worth. In fact statistics can be misused either intentionally or unwittingly, and it is not difficult to locate quantitative studies where ststistics were not really needed at all. On the other hand, statistics can be a powerful tool for description or hypothesis testing. Probably the most valuable general skill individuals can have in statistical methods is the ability to understand the foregoing when reading research articles, books, or reports in their respective specialties. Of course a valuable specific skill is the ability to use statistical methods in your research if you need them.
When dealing with claims based on statistics, if the details are not provided to determine how the data is claimed to have been collected (ie who is being claimed to have observed what and what methods they used to record quantified measurements of selected aspects of these observations) then the claims are no better than opinions unsupported by statistics. If the claims of who observed and recorded what are clear, judgments can be made about the likely reliability or otherwise of the data and the claims based on them, and data (but more importantly, observations underlying the data) can be tested by replicating experiments.

Developments in experimental research

According to an article on, experiments at the Karolinska Institet in Stockholm, Sweden (also presented in Nature Nanotechnology) have shown that carbon nanotubes can be broken down by myeloperoxidase (MPO), an enzyme found in white blood cells.

This could have implications for medical applications of carbon nanotubes as well as for dealing with potential future industrial accidents involving carbon nanotubes at production facilities.

Keeping up to date with developments in scientific research can help you deliver cutting edge cinema and fiction, but be careful that you get it right if you're going for accuracy in the treatment of science in your cinema and fiction.

New developments in experimental research can also help you with ideas for speculative fiction that goes beyond accurate depiction for the sake of the story. Michael Crichton is an author who has written several books such as Jurassic Park, Congo and Prey that stray into speculative fiction, while also providing a basis from which readers can consider the real science behind the speculative elements. If curious, a reader can then further research that area for themself.

Atlantic Ocean currents: observations, models and film depictions

In a recent article on, NASA Study Finds Atlantic Conveyor Belt Not Slowing, it is suggested that the major Atlantic Ocean currents are not slowing down as has been popularly reported, but have slightly sped up between 1993 and 2009.

The source of the data is attributed as Josh Willis from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who also had this research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, using altimeter measurements from ocean-observing satellites and profiling floats.

The idea of major ocean currents slowing has gained a lot of attention in recent years after slowing was predicted according to some climate models.

The film The Day After Tomorrow depicts a scenario in which the main North Atlantic Current slows down to a point where it stops, causing a catastrophic climate disruption, involving a snap freeze across the Northern Hemisphere and giant storms. Responses to the treatment of this issue in the film have been mixed.

The National Geographic article Global Warming May Alter Atlantic Currents, Study Says provides some background on this issue.

Climate related articles can be found at Climate Debate Daily, where the articles are split into two columns: 'Calls to Action' and 'Dissenting Voices'.

Disagreement on science programmes can provide good story conflict

Here is a link to the article Agricultural mega-programmes 'will not attract funding' on

According to the article in the link, the Gates Foundation has reservations over fuzzy expectations of results in programs proposed by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Imagine if a disagreement like the one above was between hostile parties, or if an unscrupulous person is willing go to extreme lengths to sway or disrupt a decision or punish opposition to a decision. Such differences between major players in scientific issues can provide conflict for cinema and fiction on an epic and a personal scale. This kind of conflict can provide a grand backdrop to a story focused on a more intimate look at characters caught up in the dispute or its consequences.

A recent real-life example of such a conflict can be found in the article Google: Critics of Vietnam mine face online attack.

This can be a way to provide strong conflict and familiarise an audience with the science and issues forming the basis of the dispute, as well as to a broad range of human behaviour through the characters.

Cinema and high speed photography

This article on marks the 107th anniversary of the birth of electrical engineer and photographer Harold Edgerton.

According to the article:
Edgerton invented stop-action, high-speed photography, helping push the obscure stroboscope from a laboratory instrument into a household item. He used the technique to make a body of work that’s revered both for its scientific advancement and its aesthetic qualities.
This high speed photography allows us to record and observe phenomena that would normally be beyond useful limits of sense perception, such as a bullet passing through an object.

The article also links to an article on Eadweard Muybridge's work with rapid succession photography.

Variable frame rates provide a range of possibilities for cinema - such as speeding up and slowing down action on the screen, and freezing on a moment of time that spans only a several-thousandth of a second.

Here is a link to an article containing images taken at various speeds, from Muybridge to the 110 attosecond (110 x 10-18) shutter speed used by Ferenc Krausz for subatomic imaging, with an accompanying description for each image.

Below is an example of video taken at 2000 frames per second:

Animal intelligence and character psychology

Animal characters are often portrayed in cinema and fiction as having more human-like qualities than their real-life counterparts. Often they are portrayed according to previous depictions of animal types, such as those in Aesop's Fables (for example, a cunning fox). Sometimes they are exaggerated versions of one or a few key features attributed to types of animals (whether accurately attributed or a continuation of a stereotype), such as the short-term memory of the fish Dory in Finding Nemo.

The following video round-up for New Scientist article Animals With Human Abilities details 6 areas of human ability observed in other animals and provides video coverage for each. These areas are teaching, learning, cooperation, deception, memory, and social learning.

So whether you want to develop more interesting animal characters for cinema or fiction or you just want to see a chimp outperform humans on touchscreen memory tests (below) - although the chimp has had more practice at that type of testing - you may find the videos in the above link interesting viewing.

Film reviews by scientists

Many people try to separate science and art but science is about everything, including movies and what is depicted in them.

Here is a link to the film review page of University of Melbourne's Science Matters blog where you can read some reviews such as geneticists on Avatar and District 9, a chemist on 2012, or a software engineer on Terminator Salvation.

Also, here is a link to Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics where films are discussed according to how physics is depicted in them, including reviews and recommendations.

If you know of any good science-based cinema and/or fiction pages, please share them in the comments for this post or on the Cinema and Fiction Facebook group.