West Coast Wonders

West Coast Wonders


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Bill Nye the Science Guy has been making science fun for the past few years from his Pasadena-based headquarters at the Planetary Society. But this week, another of America’s most entertaining science proponents will also be bringing his A-game to Caltech for a special event. 


Ira Flatow, the creator and host of “Science Friday,” which is syndicated to 380 National Public Radio (NPR) stations nationwide, including Pasadena’s own KPCC-FM, will bring the show to the venerable campus’ Beckman Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday for a show that will be used as part of the following Friday’s national broadcast. And in keeping with the New York City-based program’s trip to Los Angeles, the episode will have a special focus on the connections between science and the movies. 


“We’re going to take a look at how special effects work at movie theaters, like digital acting in which people are scanned in, and actors aren’t used on film anymore,” says Christian Skotte, director of program strategy for “Science Friday.” “Sean Carroll of Caltech, a physics professor, will be a guest on the show and he and Ira are going to do a little quiz show, a game show that will team Caltech students against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory staff. We’ll show a clip from movies about science and ask the two teams what they think is wrong, and then Ira and Sean will say what’s wrong or right in the movies.” 


The Caltech event will be audiotaped, with about 50 minutes of the 90-minute event to be used as half of next Friday’s episode (the other half will be broadcast live from New York, as usual). Aside from the humorous game show challenge, the event will include a live TED Talk multimedia presentation by KPCC’s science reporter, Sanden Totten. 


“We’re a weekly interview show in which we interview scientists about what was happening in science that week, or interesting science-related topics in the news,” says Skotte. “One of our big strengths is that we don’t dumb down the science but make it understandable to anyone with a curious bent. We assume our audience is curious and smart, and we make it so it’s not just science people that listen to us.” 


Flatow first developed his populist approach to discussing science as an NPR reporter before starring in the children’s science show “Newton’s Apple” on PBS in the 1990s. Wednesday’s “Science Friday” event will mark the first time the show has ever tried a themed approach on the air and is one of only four live events the show does each year. 


“This is something even our staff is super-excited about,” says Skotte. “Mixing it up by taking it to Hollywood is a whole other world for us.”

“Science Friday” will present a live special edition at 7:30 Wednesday at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan, Pasadena. Tickets are $10 to $28. Call (626) 395-4652 or visit Caltech.edu. 

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