Thursday, May 04, 2006

Nanotech for the masses ... really?

Physicist Ivan Schuller of UCSD and producer Rich Wargo think they can bring "nano to the masses," as PopSci.com put it, with a short film about nanotechnology. The title? When Things Get Small (click here to see the RealVideo stream).

The movie feels like a mixture of Sesame Street and Bill Nye the Science Guy and probably works well for the same target audiences. But even though When Things Get Small may not have a broad impact on "the masses," the fact that a scientist is trying to disseminate his findings in creative ways is worth mentioning.

"Sure, the execution is goofy, but what’s novel here is the fact that the film represents a serious scientist disseminating his research findings to the public, in a format suitable for audiences “ages 15 to 85,” as Schuller likes to say. He could have just published his findings on nanotech in a prestigious journal and called it a day (which he’s been doing over a 30-year career in science). Instead he spent three years and $400,000 dollars, underwritten by the National Science Foundation, UCSD and others, to make a funny movie about his project."

Some of this is explained by Schuller's biography:

"Before becoming a scientist, Schuller studied theater in college, an avocation that sparked his passion for changing the way scientists communicate with the public. His shtick is science as entertainment, and "When Things Get Small" is his first film effort."

The idea of educating people through entertainment, of course, is not new and Schuller borrowed it from development communication scholars who used the same concept in the 1960s and 70s to raise awareness of available vaccinations or new types of seeds. It will be interesting to see how how well a half hour web-based movie will do in the age of 8-second sound bites and 10-second web site visits.

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