Austin Peay honors class to explore the science behind blockbuster movies
(Posted July 1, 2021)
This fall, Dr. Catherine Haase, Austin Peay State University assistant professor of biology, will teach a class that explores the science portrayed in blockbuster Hollywood movies, specifically putting critical thought to how the science in the movies stacks up to real science.
The course will examine popular science fiction movies ranging from 1971 to 2014, including “Jurassic Park,” “Interstellar,” “Contagion” and more. The class will be a seminar class for freshman honor students.
“I thought it would be a really neat opportunity to critically think about how we portray science in the movies and to bring in guest lectures for each topic,” Haase said. “Science has been portrayed in the movies like mad scientists. They’re either awkward and nerdy or they’re obscure and evil. And so I think it’ll be helpful for the students to kind of come away with hopefully having the skills to think critically about what they read and see in the media.”
Students will meet twice a week and watch scenes of a movie relating to a certain type of science. Each week, guest lecturers also will discuss the science portrayed in that week’s movie. Most of the guest speakers are professors from Austin Peay.
“I’m not expecting the students to come away knowing everything about these movies and the science behind these movies but more about just having the skills to think critically,” Haase said. “Instilling science communication as an education is really important.”
She’s also working to find somebody who has worked in the movies to speak to the class about how movie crews go about incorporating science into the films. Haase will teach the course for one semester, but she’s considering making the class into a podcast available to the public.
The movies and the scientists
Haase tried to pick movies that covered a variety of sciences, from paleontology to mathematics. Here are the movies she plans to explore in her class paired with the invited guest lecturers:
- “Jurassic Park” (1993) – paleontology – Dr. Kallina Dunkle, Department of Geosciences, APSU.
- “Contagion” (2011) – epidemiology – Dr. Raina Plowright, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Montana State University.
- “Medicine Man” (1992) – conservation – Dr. Evan Rehm, Department of Biology, APSU.
- “The Core” (2003) – geology -- Dr. Erik Haroldson, Department of Geosciences, APSU.
- “Moneyball” (2011) – statistics – Dr. Matt Jones, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, APSU.
- “Sneakers” – computer science – Dr. James Church, Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, APSU.
- “Evolution” (2001) – evolution – Dr. Catherine Haase, Department of Biology, APSU.
- “The Andromeda Strain” (1971) – microbiology – Dr. Amy Thompson, Department of Biology, APSU.
- “The Manhattan Project” (1986) – chemistry – Dr. Marcia Schilling, Department of Chemistry, APSU.
- “Apollo 13” (1995) – engineering – Dr. Alex King, Department of Physics, Engineering and Astronomy.
- “Gattaca” (1997) – genetics – Dr. Karen Meisch, dean, College of STEM, APSU.
- “Interstellar” (2014) – astrophysics – no guest lecturer, existing commentary about the movie from astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
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