The Exchange December Update: Look What We've Been Up To!

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The season of giving is upon us, and in the spirit of the holidays we would like to thank our volunteer consultants who give their knowledge and time to The Exchange. As screenwriter Samantha Corbin-Miller put it:

The Exchange has proven to be an invaluable resource for me as a writer. I am constantly blown away by their ability to find knowledgeable, engaging medical professionals who are willing to take time out from their life-saving work to help make my scripts more authentic and accurate.

– Samantha Corbin-Miller, Writer/Producer

We would also like to thank everyone who uses our service and continues to support the program through word-of-mouth. We love hearing how our consultants have made a difference in your projects. As screenwriter Tom Schulman recently told us:

I had an absolutely fabulous consultation with Ricardo last week. He spent an entire afternoon with me, shared the fascinating details of his amazing research, and provided me with a breakthrough idea on my project. He’s a great guy, it was an inspiring day, and I want to thank you so much for making it happen.

– Tom Schulman, Screenwriter

In November, The Exchange also celebrated three years of bringing the science and entertainment communities together – marked by more than 385 consults logged into the database! We celebrated this milestone by posting some special interviews with the key people who made The Exchange possible: Ralph J. Cicerone, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Sean Gesell. We also heard from screenwriter Jane Espenson about her love of science fiction and learned what questions physicist Sean M. Carroll is most frequently asked during consults. To help you meet your recommended allowance of daily science reading, check out the articles on genetically-engineered neurons that light up, how an online game solved a protein mystery essential to AIDS research, the reality of tractor beams, and the science behind aging

As the end of the year (quickly!) approaches, we are actively raising money to support our 2012 operations. As a nonprofit, we are supported by grants, private donations, and some National Academy of Sciences endowment funds. If you would like to support The Exchange by making a tax-deductible contribution, please go to our online secure gift-giving form, and select the “The Science & Entertainment Exchange” box. Thank you so much for your support – we truly appreciate it!

As always, you can stay connected with The Exchange’s weekly updates by subscribing to our RSS feed or engage with us on Twitter, Facebook,  YouTube, and Vimeo


Science can take you on all sorts of adventures. If you want to make a character fly across the room or jump out of a burning building, use physics. If you want to create a new world, use computer science. To journey to the center of the earth, do not forget your geology. To solve a murder in 60 minutes or less, learn forensic science. Science provides inspiration and explanation for many in the entertainment industry. On October 29, The Exchange presented Science in Hollywood at Girltopia, a gathering of 10,000 Girl Scouts at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Scientist-turned-film director Valerie Weiss, Jet Propulsion Lab education specialist Laura Tenenbaum, and forensic anthropologist Diane France shared behind-the-scenes information on how science is used in Hollywood – from planning stunts, to creating accurate scenes, to inspiring stories. Each audience member left with a biography from the  Women’s Adventures in Science series, which highlights a number of working scientists in a variety of fields.


“What exactly is an astrobiologist and how does this field even exist when we do not know for sure if other planets have biology?” It was an honest question posed by a member of the entertainment community over a beer to two experts from Jet Propulsion Lab. Welcome to The Exchange’s newest event series designed to bring scientists together with Hollywood professionals – Science on Tap. 

Our first topic: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life. Thanks so much to the speakers who helped launch Science on Tap’s maiden voyage, Randii Wessen and Bob Anderson from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. 

Unlike a panel session, salon, or tour, Science on Tap events are meant to be more open and the talks less structured during the course of a small-scale evening created for close interaction and comfortable discourse in a local Los Angeles watering hole. Wessen and Anderson spent two hours sharing their favorite career stories and reflecting on what amazes them about their work with a room full of writers, film executives, and producers who engaged in an open-ended conversation.

Overwhelmingly positive feedback from the evening confirmed that you should be on the lookout for more Science on Tap in 2012. We are always interested in knowing what topics are of most interest to Hollywood, so please feel free to drop us a line and let us know what you would like to learn more about … in a bar. In other words: What would you ask a scientist over a beer?


Geospatial Intelligence (GeoInt) is one of the fastest growing mission spaces in the intelligence community. Using massive digital databases, real-time information, and state-of-the-art analytical tools, GeoInt teams are tackling the most difficult problems facing national security organizations. GeoInt also extends beyond the traditional defense missions into other areas of national security – for example, how to evacuate a U.S. military base from national disaster, how to track terrorist activity, or how to understand health issues. From desktop computers to mobile war fighters, GeoInt is the key. In early December, the Covert Affairs writers’ room spent the day at Esri – the people who pioneered the science of geographic information systems – learning about this cutting-edge technology, hearing the stories behind it, and getting up-close-and-personal to see how GeoInt teams ferret out secret nuclear enrichment facilities in Iran, help local captains fend off Somali piracy attack patterns, and use the power of social networks to discover real-time patterns that tell us what is happening around the globe. 

As Chris Ord and Matt Corman (co-creators of Covert Affairs) shared after the workshop:

Thank you John and Esri for a fantastic day. It was above and beyond what we and our writers could have asked for. Everyone came in to work today jazzed and excited about everything we learned yesterday. Thanks to the NAS so much for organizing. We look forward to continuing our relationship and finding new areas to explore in the future!


Some of television’s most popular medical, crime, science, and science-fiction shows routinely ask for a helping hand to portray science and technology realistically. On November 4, Hollywood came to the Bay Area Science Festival. Jamie Paglia (executive producer, Eureka ), Seth Shostak (senior astronomer, SETI), Tony DeRose (senior scientist, Pixar), and Kevin Grazier (investigational scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab and science advisor for Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, and other shows) engaged the audience with stories of how science genuinely inspires the narrative process and how the entertainment industry is increasingly using scientists to get it right. 


The Exchange just celebrated its third anniversary in November. Since our launch three years ago, we have facilitated more than 385 consults between the entertainment industry and top scientists, engineers, and health professionals. We host salons, panel discussions, and screenings to bring entertainment industry professionals and scientists together – because at the end of the day, it is as much about the “cultural exchange” as about the consultations. We are grateful to the members of the entertainment community who reach out to us with their questions – each one is an adventure! And a special thanks to our volunteer science consultants who are critical to our success. We truly cannot do it without you!

As we look toward our future, we are gathering ideas on where we should go from here. We brought together a small group of entertainment industry leaders, top scientists, and some of our funders earlier this month to share their thoughts on our progress to date and to brainstorm ideas for the future. Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Janet and Jerry Zucker, vice chairs of The Exchange, challenged the participants to roll up their sleeves, think outside the box, and consider future activities for The Exchange. The group rose to the challenge, and exceeded our expectations. We are actively sorting through all the ideas, and look forward to where they will take us! 


Anniversary Interviews

To commemorate the third anniversary of The Exchange we featured interviews with the people who made the program possible: 

  • Janet Zucker explained why she feels an immense debt to science and shared her initial thoughts on The Exchange.
  • Jerry Zucker told us why he finds science fascinating and offered some words of wisdom to aspiring filmmakers and scientists.
  • Ralph J. Cicerone spoke about his first memory of science and his hopes for The Exchange’s future.
  • Sean Gesell shared what he learned from interacting with scientists, as well as his thoughts on Hollywood’s interest in science.

Hugo Gets Inspiration from Some Old-School Engineering
Martin Scorsese’s 3-D holiday adventure Hugo offers moviegoers a glimpse into some engineering history with the help of an automaton.

Mister Terrific: Scientist Turns Superhero
Comic book writer, Eric Wallace, shares some scoop on the science of Mister Terrific and how this brilliant, billionaire scientist differs from other superheroes.

In Time and Immortality: Is It Only a Matter of Time?
Andrew Niccol’s latest film In Time explores an ageless society. Find out what scientists know about the science of aging, and what scientific breakthroughs could lead to a longer life.


The Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Third Edition, is a great resource for scientific and technical evidence in the courtroom. The manual overviews key scientific topics behind legal evidence such as DNA identification, toxicology, epidemiology, and neuroscience in lay terms. It also provides examples of scientific and technical evidence in legal cases. Download the PDF version of the manual for free at


We would like to acknowledge the continuing support provided to The Exchange by various individuals and organizations. Of course, our special thanks to Janet and Jerry Zucker, vice-chairs of the advisory board for The Exchange, and our partners in this program. They have been instrumental in guiding the progress of the program since its launch in 2008. Our thanks also go to:

  • National Academy of Sciences 
  • Cures Now: Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick, Janet Zucker, and Jerry Zucker 
  • The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation 
  • The California Endowment 
  • The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation 
  • Research Corporation for Science Advancement
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute  
  • Gail Blout and The Elkan Blout Fund of the National Academy of Sciences 
  • Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement
  • Robert and Anne James 
  • Esri / Jack and Laura Dangermond 
  • Davis Masten and Christopher Ireland 
  • Jill H. Kramer
  • Nancy Conrad 
  • Presidents’ Circle Communications Initiative of the National Academies


The Exchange is based in Los Angeles and has our offices on the campus of UCLA at the California NanoSystems Institute. Please contact us at 310-983-1056 if you would like to become a volunteer consultant or have a project that needs our help. Marty ( and Rick ( look forward to hearing from you! In the meantime, follow us on @SciEntEx or visit our Facebook page (do not forget to “like” us) for the latest news from The Exchange!


The Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences, connects entertainment industry professionals with top scientists from across the country to create a synergy between accurate science and engaging entertainment. Chartered by Congress in 1863 under an Act signed by Abraham Lincoln to provide crucial scientific advice to the nation, the National Academy of Sciences, a private, nonprofit institution, is uniquely positioned to draw on the expertise of thousands of men and women who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields in science. 


The Science & Entertainment Exchange is a program of the National Academy of Sciences, a private, nonprofit, nongovernmental institution. The Exchange is supported by grants, private donations, and National Academy of Sciences endowment funds. If you would like to support The Exchange by making a tax-deductible contribution, go to our online secure gift giving form. Thank you so much for your support – we truly appreciate it!





The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.