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X_Science: Communicating Science through Cinema and Science Fiction

Paolo Piccardo, Marilena Carnasciali, Piotr Swiątek, Karlheinz Steinmüller

Faculty of Sciences, University of Genoa (Italy); FP7 National Contact Point Energy, PTJ/FZJ; Z_punkt GmbH The Foresight Company (Germany)

[email protected]


Science and scientists are often considered too far from common people and too hard to be understood. Nothing is more wrong than this statement but it is true that sometimes there is a gap between the work of the scientists and people. A gap working on both ways even if the scientist is doing research on subjects matching present and future needs of the population and the community is using the practical application of discoveries. Since the end of the 1980’s there is a growing number of events trying to fill this gap and the last decade has seen a real effort from the European Community to support events that might be fruitful to make all actors aware of the close link between the scientific and non-scientific communities.
“X_Science: Cinema between Science and Science Fiction” is one of these activities organized by the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences of the University of Genoa, together with the GenovaFilmFestival and funded by the Liguria Region Governance. The formula is easy: Cinema can act as a catalyst to improve the discussions and therefore the exchange between common people and scientists on topics concerning technology, discoveries, issues, hopes and fears. During X_Science discussions are inspired by SciFi movies from the origins to the most recent productions, with members of the scientific community discussing together with the audience and letting the debate flow in a natural way, like a river where all contributions are synergistically leading to the ocean of awareness. Short movies worldwide produced during the last three years compete for the X_Science Award and allow us to get a glance on the most recent and fresh perceptions of our present and close to far future.
Science Fiction like every work of art is the mirror of the present where the artist is distilling the common sense of things: what is considered real, what is felt as good and what as bad or even evil, what are the expectations (in our case from science and technology), and what are the fears (e.g. the end of humankind by its own activities).
After 6 editions of this festival, numerous guests and cooperation (e.g. with EuroScience, European Science Foundation) and thousands of people participating and making this event alive we can evaluate the constructive and encouraging aspects and those that should be improved.

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Comments about this Paper

Your comments are welcome

Date: 2013.07.15

Posted by Françoise Derwa (Belgium)

Message: The publication shows and proposes a very creative and innovative idea to fill the gap between science and scientist, and no scientific people.
Science and scientists are indeed often considered too far from common people and too hard to be understood.
“X_Science: Cinema between Science and Science Fiction” is one of these activities organized by the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences of the University of Genoa, together with the GenovaFilmFestival and funded by the Liguria Region Governance.
During the event, discussions are inspired by SciFi movies from the origins to the most recent productions, with members of the scientific community discussing together with the audience and letting the debate flow in a natural way, like a river where all contributions are synergistically leading to the ocean of awareness.
In front of a fiction, with all the extravagant and extraordinary ideas directors and writers developed, we are finally finding our common space.
As mentioned in the publication, to stimulate the audience is not easy, to communicate science is often a challenge difficult to be faced without the classical creation of roles “teacher – lecturer” and “audience – pupil” that is probably liked by most colleagues but is at the same time creating that kind of fear and sense of wizard that surround science and its “ministries”.
I personally find the idea just amazing, a very alternative method with the aim to change the prospective of students (but not just students) able also to motivate and incentive the study of scientific subjects often discriminated.
In fictions, indeed, doesn't matter if expressed by books or by movies, is possible to find a distillate of the perception of science and society relationship.
The discussions carried out during X_Science help to create and consolidate the bridge between authors, scientists and the audience, a very smart and great idea!

Date: 2012.12.04

Posted by Antonio Guardia Cabrera (Spain)

The idea of promoting science through cinema and science-fiction seems interesting, even more when there are some educational centres that are already using it with positive results.

Apparently, science and science-fiction seems to be two different worlds. One of them is cold, boring and complex facing to the other one which is more fascinating and funny. Two worlds so far but yet so close as part of the two sides of the same coin. After analyzing the obstacles of learning science, it is time to find solutions that make it more attractive and motivating.

The fact of using films to promote science seems fantastic because it can trigger the intellectual curiosity. We can use the excitement and fun atmosphere of films to entice students into the world of science under the guise of science-fiction and direct them in their quest for answers. As a result, they will get the tools to discern reality from fantasy and then they will be able to distinguish the science from the fiction having a good time doing that.

Furthermore, we live in a rapidly changing society in which the way of teaching science has not changed. We cannot hope that today’s students adapt to methods of twenty years ago, we have to make an effort to introduce new changes in science teaching using and discovering new strategies. Therefore, the use of films can be very useful to develop a scientific knowledge, it is a wide and varied resource that should be studied, analyzed and discussed from the point of view of science. Thus, curiosity arisen from a film might help us to teach science.

In conclusion, although the idea of using films is not entirely new, it can be a good way to promote science because we can use the curiosity arisen from a film to teach science.

Date: 2012.10.31

Posted by Maria Teresa Santos Palas (Portugal)

Message: This article is of great relevance and up-to-date because it focuses very captivating/stimulating resources for society, allowing a certain level of eccentricity, which is nowadays a pertinent need.
When speaking about science and science makers – scientists –and sharing the idea expressed in the comment, it remains the impression of distance and inaccessibility due to the protected environments they usually work or because the subjects they deal are not of common domain. However, these assumptions are being progressively surpassed and scientists tend to increasingly share their scientific advances allowing a fruitful cohabitation, either directly or through discussions, workshops, cinema followed by commented analysis and others.
It turns out that nowadays, more and more scientists are engaged in researching everyday life problems (health, food, environment, energy, economy, etc.), that affect people well-being making scientist to be seen as allied people.
Through cinema, even viewed in the classroom, it is possible to promote a clear discussion of a given theme. Motivation becomes thereafter greater allowing an easy and more efficient knowledge, than it could ever happen with a strategy using rhetoric alone.
I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand – Confúncio.
Then, the intersection of these two fields will surely generate something very prolific because it will be like discover the unknown. Especially children like to face these challenges! They feel very comfortable as junior scientists!
The paper does not explain why students lack motivation to study chemistry, but suggests the aforementioned alternatives, that could be certainly profitable in this area, and identifies several institutions that are committed with this.
In conclusion, I consider this approach very useful since it can be easily transferred to my “educational environment” allowing an innovative pedagogical practice. I believe however that it requires a permanent actualization and a continuous progress from the teacher to get informed and properly communicate to students, attracting interest and fulfilling their expectations. Moreover, it requires a proper control of the class environment in order to make clear the boundaries between fiction and reality. One pitfall could be the difficulty to get and adapt this type of resources to teach/support contents of the currently approved curricula.

Date: 2012.10.22


Message: X_Science: Communicating Science through Cinema and Science Fiction

This paper explaining how cinematographic approach enables to raise learner’s awareness of science and its stakes first addresses how society, including the youths, perceives scientists, who seem “disconnected” from reality. This discrepancy between scientific research and material application of this research might be one cause of the students’ lack of motivation to study chemistry: why indeed would the youths involve themselves in studies that would merely set them apart from society, from issues that interest them… to lock themselves in a lab? To start from the experiences of the youths, fond of movies and science fiction, and end up in a scientific debate enables to prove the youths how relevant science is in everyday life. Besides, this approach makes for a multidisciplinary research: the language teacher would study cinematographic language, the philosophy teacher would have a role in the debate… This approach enables to put the focus back on science: all the great philosophers and scholars are first of all scientists to the core. Moreover, the fact that the paper offers three subjects of studies is very interesting: the three productions that are introduced are a useful suggestion to prepare a lesson.

Date: 2012.10.09


Message: X Science: communicating science through cinema and science fiction”

How to fill the gap between scientific research and the general public?

Cinema can act as a catalyst to improve discussions and thus exchanges between ordinary people and scientists on subjects about technologies, discoveries, stakes, hopes and fears.
- General public awareness
- The main question is: are we doing science fiction or science? Which message do we convey, offering science fiction films?
Take care of distinguishing science fiction and sciences.
Successful communication on the issue of science and increasing awareness and curiosity for the topic.
No real learning in sciences.
Looking for solution
- Students’ motivation through a situation scenario, a playful entertainment on cinema
- Questioning and exchanges between teachers, researchers and students
- Arousing student’s curiosity, what could bring them to learn more about sciences and thus improve their motivation

Date: 2012.10.02

Posted by ILKA BOYANOVA IVANOVA (Bulgaria)

Message: Today's science has reached heights that turn the world of science into a story about magicians who are capable of anything. With the advance of technology and all the scientific discoveries it is more and more difficult for ordinary people to follow the links and untangle the knots along the road from theory to an everyday product. As a result, scientists look more and more like magicians from the future who travel from point A to point B through logic and experiments. However, the general public finds this road difficult to follow and decipher; therefore, they take these discoveries on trust. However, history has shown us that when we do not understand the genesis and evolution of an idea, we tend to either admire it or distrust it extremely for no reason.
The article entitled „X_Science: Communicating Science through Cinema and Science Fiction” describes an idea that has already been put into practice. It expresses the concept of building a bridge between the specialists' scientific minds and the perceptions of those outside the laboratoty very well. Using popular multimedia entertainment, the project takes advantage of the film art, turning it into a medium between science, entertainment and reality. The purpose of this is to provoke deeper understanding and curiosity on the part of ordinary people regarding the queries and successes of modern scientists. This is achieved by means of a fictional story depicted in script, a story that moves and involves its readers through its unreal male and female characters, a story based on real questions and theories of the world we inhabit.
Being a highschool teacher, I encounter the withdrawal of bright young minds from 'the comlex, long and endless processes' that constitute the world of science. Why should a student make an effort to use his/her memory and logical thinking if he/she can find the answer to my question by just a few clicks on his/her mobile? Modern technologies have broadened our horizons, films display the past, the present and the future in a fascinating way and the Internet is the new world encyclopaedia. Each generation of teenagers is more and more accustomed to this practical and convenient source of abundant information to the point of being unable to get impressed, surprised or interested. However, while teenagers hold the world in their jeans pockets, just a click away, the lack of understanding between them and the scientists who have provided them with these technologies is growing rapidly.
The teachers at the „National Aprilov High school'', where I teach, have long discovered the usefulness of modern science fiction films, which have the ability to attract students' attention through entertainment, at the same time posing questions and provoking students' curiosity with regard to the historical, philosophical and ecological issues adressed by the film. For that reason, a project like “X_Science: Cinema between Science and Science Fiction”, where publicity meets science, would have an enormous influence on young people, whose attention we, the teachers, find increasingly difficult to attract.
In my opinion, the implementation of such ideas would help to build a bridge between students and laboratory workers. It would also trigger greater interest in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Ecology and Technology in terms of education and vocation. Using the large amount of available information, the teacher is able to turn magic into a comprehensible concept. What is left is to find the formula that will attract and keep students' attention on the queries and the links. And is there a better tool for achieving this than everyone's favorite pastime – entertainment?

Date: 2012.09.05

Posted by Kappatos Stamatios (Greece)

Message: This paper describes exactly what is mentioned in its title (Communicating Science through Cinema and Science), since Science (and scientists) are “often considered too far from common people” and “too hard to be understood”, even if the distance between scientists and (‘common’) people isn’t so large as, scientists often do research for community issues (food, environment, energy, Economical Issues – as Crisis – just to name a few…) , and community uses the practical application of discoveries. The causes for the students’ lack of motivation to study chemistry are not extensively explained as it is described under a general ‘cover’ of the “gap between the work of scientists and ‘usual’ people”.
An interesting students’ obstacle in addressing chemistry is mentioned here:
The (usual) impression of the community for the “scientists’ world” (as it is shown through out movies and this is considered as the common sense!) is the one of a “closed”, “different”, “better” world and community of people, while scientists are “crazy”, “don’t know what people need”, “they scare people”, “they are possible saviors”, “they are people who know everything”…and here’s the way that the gap between them (scientists - teachers – lecturer) and people (audience-pupils) is getting larger. (This seems to be rather an…artificial creation of the Cinema Industry than…reality!)
Though there are plenty of difficulties in understanding chemistry (and science generally), this paper reports a successful experience in motivating students to study chemistry. The process – entertainment (the pleasure of sitting in a cinema – with pop corn if possible!!!) of watching selected movies (among worldwide production of documentaries, and SciFi movies), is originally combined with the discussion (for sharing ideas, fears, interpretations asking questions with eagerness to be answered) that follows. The interchange of aspects respectively between teachers and students is recognized as a suitable method to:
1. Keep teachers updated to the continuous progress of research, as an inner impulse for better communication with their students! Inspired scientists – teachers are able to derive a message of teaching chemistry in a more unconventional way related more closely to students’ expectations and interests.
2. ‘Push’ students to learn more about chemistry (and science generally!) and understand science better and/or faster.
This method can be easily transferred to the ‘educational environment’ of a Greek Lyceum (especially one directed to Technical Education!) and it is interesting to see the results of implementing such an experiment!! (Personally I’ll incorporate it in my teaching method!). Also most recent findings in the field of chemistry, can be achieved with the use of the above mentioned aspect. So it is suggested as an innovative didactical approach and easily applicable to reality of the Greek Educational System.
At the same time teachers should always be aware of the difference between Science Fiction and Science and keep their students informed for the limits of every aspect. This reminds someone walking on a tightrope, keeping a dynamic equilibrium between Questions about science (pleasure of learning) from one side and,watching a SciFi movie (pleasure of quality) from the other… Pop corn included!

Date: 2012.08.29

Posted by David Sutton (Ireland)

Message: Why is this paper relevant? The paper gives an excellent example of an initiative to communicate ‘Science’.
Does the paper explain the causes for the students’ lack of motivation to study chemistry?
If yes, do you consider them relevant? Why?
No, but what is established is the public’s perceptions of scientists in the Movies and the exploitation of this debate to stimulate interest in science.
Does the paper explain the students’ obstacles in addressing chemistry?
If yes, do you consider them relevant? Why? No. It serves to give a review of a 6 year initiative which provides a forum for the public and academia/scientists to discuss the science behind or involved in the plotline in SiFi movies etc.
Does the paper / publication report successful experiences in motivating students to study chemistry?
If yes, do you consider them transferable to your situation? Why?
This is not clear but it does comment on the communication of information but not the retention of knowledge or scientific fact. The program appears to be a successful tool in the communication of science. No claims are made as to the motivation of students to study chemistry.
Does the paper / publication presents the difficulties of chemistry teachers to keep update to the continuous progresses of the research? No
Does the paper / publication propose solutions to in order to exploit at secondary school level the most recent findings in the filed of chemistry?
If yes, do you consider this solution feasible?
There is a possibility to take the concept and replicated it in many situations including schools. There is a strong communication thread of science/chemistry to the public with this type of initiative.

Is the teaching resource described useful for you? Why?
It is not a teaching resource but the concept is a very versatile one which can be adapted for a teaching scenario.
Do you think it can increase the students’ interest toward chemistry? Why?
Yes, as it confronts the popularization of science in movies and makes people consider what the realities are in a relaxed forum.
Do you think it can help the students to understand better and faster? Why?
Yes, as in a classroom situation very specific topics can be considered in isolation which have a fantasy/real application in the movies.
Do you think it proposes an innovative didactical approach? Why?
Only in the communication and the raising of interest in science. The Learning aspect may need development for implementation in a classroom situation.

National Reports on successful experiences to promote lifelong learning for chemistry The national reports on chemistry successful experiences to promote lifelong learning for chemistry are now available on the related section of the project portal. The reports presents examples of successful experiences in the partner countries and the results of testing of ICT resources with science teachers.