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

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While the weather is turning cooler outside, business is hot at The Exchange! We completed our 350th consult in September, and we are quickly moving toward number 400. As art director François Audouy put it:

“It was a wonderful resource to have access to top scientists provided by The Exchange on Green Lantern. Always a pleasure for me, and Green Lantern was no exception. I hope we can find another opportunity on a future film.

— François Audouy, Art Director, Green Lantern

Thanks to everyone who continues to use our services and of course a HUGE thank you to our volunteer consultants – we could not do it without you!

The Exchange is celebrating its 3rd anniversary this month, and to commemorate the occasion, we’ll be featuring interviews with the people who made the program possible. This week, Jerry Zucker (director, producer, and Advisory Board Vice-Chair for The Exchange) shares his thoughts on The Exchange’s success, plus why he finds science fascinating and his words of wisdom to aspiring filmmakers and scientists. (Not to mention, a good dose of his trademark humor!)  In the coming weeks we’ll hear from Ralph Cicerone (NAS president and Exchange Advisory Board Chair), Janet Zucker (producer, and Exchange Advisory Board Vice-Chair), as well as Sean Gesell (vice president, Zucker Productions and Exchange Advisory Board Member) all of whom played a critical role in starting the program as well as our continued growth.

While you’re reading the interviews, do not forget to check out the other updated and expanding website content, including interviews with Castle writer David Grae, Fringe writers Glen Whitman and Rob Chiappetta, paleontologist Stuart Sumida, Insect Fear Film Festival founder May Berenbaum, rocket scientist Randii Wessen, and many more. Learn about the science behind the scenes in our Under the Microscope features, including Apollo 18, House, Fringe, and Green Lantern. And do not forget to visit the website regularly. We are adding new interviews and articles every week!

As the end of the year 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. Check the “other” box and write in “The Science & Entertainment Exchange.” 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.


The Exchange announced last week that the GameDesk Institute will be awarded $225,000 to develop its Science in Motion project, an “embodied” game that provides a learning experience that actively engages students physically and mentally in difficult science topics. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation provided funding for the new grant, intended to support projects that leverage entertainment media to improve science learning – a key mission of the Summit on Science, Entertainment, and Education, held February 4, 2011 and sponsored by the foundation. Science in Motion, which its developers bill as a “textbook of the future,” merges high-quality characterization, storytelling, and game design from LucasArts Entertainment with assessment-driven game-learning methodology from GameDesk to create educational geoscience games that involve students’ senses, perceptions, and mind-body actions and reactions. The project was selected for its creative approach to science education, potential appeal to students as a learning tool, opportunity for broad impact, and genuine viability.


Is there scientific evidence of an afterlife? According to Benjamin Abella, a physician from the Center for Resuscitation Science, the answer is no, at least for the moment. Speaking to an audience at a special screening of Flatliners presented by The Exchange at the Imagine Science Film Festival on October 19, 2011, Abella, was joined by director Joel Schumacher; U.S. Army surgeon Christian Macedonia, M.D.; and moderator RadioLab host Jad Abumrad. The panel looked at the science of near-death and discussed how this was portrayed in this classic 1990 film. For example, the cooling blanket placed on the bodies in the film turns out to be used in a real medical procedure that extends the window for resuscitation from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. The evening wrapped with a few non-science-related questions: the craziest thing to happen on set (did you know that Kevin Bacon actually broke Keifer Sutherland’s rib in the final climactic, resuscitation scene?) and a brief Q&A session with the audience.

In DC, we explored how the scientific method might be employed to improve your love life! Writer/director Valerie Weiss, a filmmaker with a Ph.D. in biophysics, will release her first feature film next Valentine’s Day. In the meantime, The Exchange, in association with the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences was pleased to host a special advance screening of Losing Control at the Landmark E Street Theater on October 25. A thought-provoking discussion of the film’s portrayal of science, scientists, and the general topic of women in science followed the screening, featuring Weiss; actor John Billingsley; two scientists, Barbara Arial Cohen and Leslie Zebrowitz; and moderator, Anne-Marie Mazza, director of the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law at the National Academies.


Bioterrorism and disease epidemics make for great movies … but how real is the threat? On October 4, speakers from the FBI and the CDC, and an expert on biological threats let the audience in on the answer: the threat is very real and America needs to be prepared. In 1993, bioterrorists in Japan attempted an aerosol dissemination of b. anthasis, the Anthrax pathogen. But Japanese authorities did not discover the attack until 1999. After neighbors reported a foul, gassy substance spewing from a nearby building, samples of the substance were collected … then stored in a lab until 1999. Cultures of the substance revealed it to beb. anthasis, but thankfully, it was also revealed to be the vaccine strain, which is harmless to humans. Still, the scenario is frightening. Moderated by Jonathan King (executive vice president, Participant Media), the aerosol dissemination in Japan was one of the many stories told by Vahid Majidi (assistant director of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction [WMD] Directorate), Stephen Papagiotas (public health/emergency coordinator, CDC), James Peaco (special agent, WMD coordinator in the FBI Los Angeles Field Division), and David Relman (professor of medicine and microbiology, Stanford University, and newly elected member of the Institute of Medicine). See the event recap for additional information.


Sometimes you just need to get out of the office and see it for yourself. Throughout the year The Exchange arranged a number of tours to provide people with a behind-the-scenes experience.

In September, we explored SpaceX, a private space exploration company. Entertainers ranging from writers and directors to executives and actors came out for an exclusive chance to speak to the engineers who are designing the next generation of privately owned rockets. The group saw the actual spacecraft that will one day leave Earth and dock with the International Space Station, as well as the company’s first ships to successfully launch and be retrieved from the Pacific Ocean. Numerous questions punctuated the afternoon’s visit, making for a unique opportunity to learn and interact with the company’s experts. As Alisa Tager put it,

I can say with complete confidence that this has changed the way I think about rocket science and about rocket scientists. Such a great introduction not only for finding accuracy within existing stories, but also inspiration for new ones.”

— Alisa Tager, Producer

In August, a group headed off to March Air Force Base in Riverside County, CA to learn more about how the Air Force keeps us safe and secure. We learned about the latest techniques for neutralizing explosive ordinances, took our turn flying a plane using a flight simulator, and toured the medical evacuation unit on a C-17. Film development executive Nellie Reed even tried on an explosive ordinance suit.


Back by popular demand, The Exchange joined forces with the American Chemical Society (ACS) to present Science on the Hollywood Screen at the fall ACS conference in Denver. Some of television’s most popular medical, crime, and science-fiction shows today ask scientists to lend a hand in helping TV accurately portray science. Panelists Jane Espenson (writer/producer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar: Galactica), Corrine Marrinan (writer/producer, CSI), Donna Nelson (professor of chemistry, University of Oklahoma), Aaron Thomas (writer/producer, CSI: New York), and Marty Perreault (director, The Exchange) shared behind-the-scene stories with the audience. The group inspired a number of audience members to volunteer as consultants for The Exchange.


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 
  • Robert and Anne James 
  • Esri / Jack and Laura Dangermond 
  • Davis Masten and Christopher Ireland 
  • Jill 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 realistic 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 by clicking here. Check the “other” box and write in “The Science & Entertainment Exchange.” Thank you so much for your support – we truly appreciate it!

Don’t miss our updates! Sign up to receive The Exchange’s newsletters by entering your e-mail address in the sign up form, located on the top right of the website!

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.