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Can USC Film Students Make Learning Science More Engaging?

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A USC Student reads on top of a campus building roof | Photo by rchiba via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr

A USC Student reads on top of a campus building roof | Photo by rchiba via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr
by Jason G., The Thoughtful Animal/Special to LAist

A new project called the “Creative Science Studio” or CS2, co-sponsored by the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the National Science Foundation (NSF), aims to connect scientists with filmmakers to “inspire mass media audiences about science and engineering concepts," it was announced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) this weekend in San Diego.

“USC is the natural place to establish this program, given our rich history in science education and strong academic tradition in film, television and interactive media,” said USC Executive Vice President and Provost C. L. Max Nikias in a USC press release.

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USC School of Cinematic Arts Dean Elizabeth Daley said, “This alliance is a vital and essential one. I’m excited for a potential symbiosis between these two institutions, which will play a major role in the ongoing evolution of scientific communication for both researchers and storytellers.”

For their announcement at the AAAS conference, whose theme this year is “Bridging Science and Society,” they were joined by by Academy-Award winning director and producer Ron Howard, Caltech theoretical physicist Kip Thorne and Kalpen Modi, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

The Creative Science Studio based at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, which will begin operation in Fall 2010, aims to:

  • provide NSF-funded researchers on campuses throughout the country with novel opportunities to create entertaining and engaging outreach products through collaborations with cinematic arts faculty and students
  • provide cinematic arts faculty and students, and other entertainment producers, with science and engineering collaborations and access to state-of-the-art resources —including instruments, data visualization methodologies and other cutting-edge technologies — to enhance depictions of science in mass entertainment works
  • expose next-generation entertainment producers to science and engineering themes during their education to increase familiarity and comfort level with those topics
  • provide test-bed opportunities between NSF-funded researchers and cinematic arts scholars to produce highly engaging and creative products to educate mass audiences on leading topics in science and engineering.

Though this is the first partnership that links a federal science agency with a film school, the idea of marrying science with entertainment is not a new one. The National Academy of Sciences, chartered by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, created the Science and Entertainment Exchange several years ago, which is also based in Los Angeles, and is directed by science writer Jennifer Ouellette (who also blogs at Cocktail Party Physics). USC Physics and Astronomy Professor Clifford Johnson (who also blogs at Asymptotia) has also recently partnered with NSF to create short internet videos explaining, for example, how lasers and lights work.

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