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Energy at the movies–huh?

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nuclear reactor cooling towerDifferent branches of science have played famous roles in lots of movies. But one category is often overlooked: sources of energy, even though the plots and turning points of major movies have hinged on just that. How likely is the potential nuclear reactor meltdown in China Syndrome (Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon)? How quickly could the animated robot WALL-E (Ben Burtt, voice) really recharge himself with his solar panels, and what seems to give his eventually robotic love, the diminutive Eva (Elissa Knight), intense and seemingly limitless power? Other flicks to consider: Giant, Monsters Inc., Coal Miner’s Daughter and, of course, Back to the Future and its plutonium-powered time machine.
The cinematic portrayal of energy has varied from spot-on to loose to downright ridiculous. Intrigued? On Wednesday, March 9, the University of Texas will present an entertaining lecture about energy in the movies, complete with video clips, and you can watch the whole event, live, right here at

You can learn more here about the lecture, and panel discussion that follows. Or just come back to Scientific American’s home page on Wednesday. One of our newest guest bloggers will also be tweeting live from the event, and his observations will stream on our home page right next to the streaming lecture video. Check back for more details.

Photo by By Rainer Lippert, via Wikimedia Commons


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  1. 1. NatureTM 4:43 pm 03/5/2011

    I think about this every time the explanation is skirted in a movie. Another good example I’m surprised you didn’t mention is Iron Man. I’ll often try to imagine how the unexplained mechanics might work. It’s not too hard to come up with something that isn’t any more far-fetched than some other part of the movie. For me, it’s part of the fun of watching a Techno/Sci-Fi movie.

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