#ChemMovieCarnival – The Absent-Minded Professor
Apr18

#ChemMovieCarnival – The Absent-Minded Professor

Chemistry has made many appearances in films—sometimes depicted accurately, more often not so much. This week, there’s a blog carnival devoted to chemistry’s role in movies. The carnival is being curated by @SeeArrOh over at Just Like Cooking, and can be followed at #ChemMovieCarnival. I’m going to go way back to my youth for my offering, as this movie is partly to thank/blame for my interest in science. It’s Disney’s The Absent-Minded Professor, from 1961. Here’s a promo:   Now, I didn’t see this when it was first released—at least, not that I remember. Back then, my concerns were limited to crying for food, producing its various end products, then crying some more. My first memory of seeing the film was on TV, on The Wonderful World of Disney or one of its incarnations, on a Sunday evening in the late Sixties. Let’s say I was seven or eight. The films stars Fred MacMurray as our protagonist, Ned Brainard, a professor at fictional Medfield College, a campus which was the setting of several other films from Disney Studios. In addition to his teaching duties, Prof. Brainard is enthusiastically engaged in a little garage chemistry. He becomes far too engrossed in his work one evening  and forgets (absent-minded, remember?) his other engagement and his scheduled wedding. There’s a mildly destructive but non-injurious explosion, which serendipitously creates the real star of the film, a bouncy, levitating polymer soon to be known as flubber. This material has 1001 uses! Well, it probably does, but we only get to see a few. Like make super bouncy balls! Iron it onto sneakers so you can fix a basketball game! Make a car fly! Have a rival arrested on suspicion of a DUI! Secure a potentially lucrative Defense contract! Flubber is even used to thwart the villain, Alonzo Hawk (Who shows up as the baddie in several Disney films, and is portrayed by Keenan Wynn. Alonzo Hawk holds the distinction of being Wynn’s second-most-awesomely-named character, after—naturally—Colonel “Bat” Guano.) I haven’t seen, and don’t intend to ever see, the colorized version of  The Absent-Minded Professor or the retitled remake with Robin Williams, because I am a pain in the a purist. Interestingly, the main inspiration for MacMurray’s portrayal of Ned Brainard was Hubert Alyea, professor emeritus at Princeton. Dr. Alyea, who died in 1996, was renowned for his demonstrations of chemistry principles. The sometimes explosive nature of these demonstrations earned Professor Alyea the nickname, “Dr. Boom.” As an added video bonus, here’s a version of Professor Alyea’s popular lecture on the nature of scientific discovery, entitled “Lucky Accidents, Great Discoveries and the Prepared Mind,” given in 1985:   Finally, and sadly, I have yet...

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Chemist stars in “Piled Higher and Deeper” The Movie
Jan17

Chemist stars in “Piled Higher and Deeper” The Movie

The new Ph.D. movie, based on the well-known comic strip “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham has been taking college campuses by storm since its release last Fall. If you haven’t seen it yet, like me, I know you’re dying to get your chance. I just found out my campus is screening it in February—I’m super psyched about this! Well, did you know that one of the graduate students starring in the film is a chemist?* That’s right. Meet Evans Boney. He’s a chemistry grad student at CalTech, where his research efforts focus on astrophysics, surface vibrational transfer, novel photovoltaic designs, evolutionary theory, and statistical econophysics. But in his spare time, such as on weekends and in the wee hours of the night, Evans enjoys writing, acting and producing. Film + science = dream job After graduating from MIT (B.S. Chemistry and Physics, Math Minor, 2006), Evans’s long-term plan was to… well, he didn’t have one. That’s why he came to grad school. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and it seemed like a conveniently long number of years to delay the decision,” he says. In the past two years, Evans got into acting and film production with the help of his wife, Susanna Boney, who works in the film and television industry. “My wife started working her way up the ladder in Hollywood… so I started looking on the other side of the fence at her workplace and the grass seemed a lot greener,” he says. When he was finally honest with himself about his dream career, he realized he really wanted to be someone like  Bill Nye the Science Guy: a writer, actor and producer of science-related content. His biggest break has been with The PhD Movie, where he plays the part of Mike Slackenerny, a wizened nth year graduate student mentor to the Nameless protagonist. Evans has also consulted on a couple TV show pilots and played both actor and producer roles in Penn and Teller Tell a Lie for the Discovery Channel. “Now I’m marginally famous, signing autographs and working on a bunch of projects, so that’s cool,” Evans says. If that doesn’t make the rest of us lowly un-famous grad students feel a tinge of jealousy, I don’t know what would. How Evans got his break We can all recall a time when our experiments failed and we sat down and googled “What else can I do with my life besides research?” in our frustration. Well, at least I can. Evans’s decision to audition for The PhD Movie came out of a similar situation. “I was driven to the idea of acting when...

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