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The Grand launches Science on Screen series May 29

The film "Alien" will be compared to the eruption of Mount St. Helens May 29 at The Grand Cinema.

In today'sworld it is understood we will all die knowing something about science. We won't necessarily learn practical or prosaic things like the reproductive cycle of butterflies and moths or the genus and species names of fungus and bacterium. In the age of high technology, industry and information, from fifth-grade on we are taught the finer points of the scientific method.

Here's how it works: If you are 11 years old, your teacher gives you a plump packet of papers explaining how to conduct an experiment. The packet defines hypothesis, materials, procedure, results and conclusion, and describes how to write an abstract. It goes on to tell you how to present the data you collect on a standing poster board you will need to purchase at HobbyTown USA.

Then you bring the packet home and give it to your parents who must help you come up with a suitable experiment. Popular examples from past school science fairs include: Which dishwashing detergent really prevents hand chafing? Is Coke more acidic than 7-Up? Does Heinz or Del Monte ketchup flow out of the bottle faster? Real brain twisters.

Your mother and father and you will have to endure this process for many years.

The Grand Cinema teaches science in a different way: First it secures a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation to pair films with lessons in science. Next, it invites notable figures from the world of science, technology and medicine to give introduction lessons using those long pointer sticks to tap the screen while nodding their heads. Each film is used as a jumping off point for the speaker to reveal current scientific research or technological advances, providing the perfect combination of entertainment and enlightenment - even for the most science-phobic culture vulture. Then, of course, everyone watches the film, paying close attention to key factor brought to light by the big brains before the screening. After the film, everyone walks to the nearest bar and discusses conclusions over Manhattans. Now that's an education.

Other than the Manhattans, The Grand will carry out this experiment, thanks to said grants.

Science on Screen kicks off Wednesday, May 29 with Dr. Jim Gawel, professor of Environmental Engineering and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Washington Tacoma, who will discuss how the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens completely changed the ecosystem and chemistry of Spirit Lake. Afterward, he'll grab some popcorn and watch Alien with the audience.


"I believe Dr. Gawel will discuss the idea of a foreign material or being coming into contact with a new habitat or ecosystem and consequently colliding with the inhabiting creatures of that habit or ecosystem," says Zach Powers, marketing director at The Grand. "The ash from the St. Helens eruption had a profound effect on many of the organisms in Spirit Lake - perhaps not so unlike the profound effect the Alien had on the crew of Nostromo.

OK, makes sense.

June 27, emerging diseases expert Dr. James Bales and public health disease outbreak response expert Nigel Turner - both from Pierce County Health Department - will discuss the research and planning behind dangerous viral outbreaks before screening the film 12 Monkeys, a story about a time traveler trying to save the world from a deadly plague.

The series ends July 25 with a screening of Obselidia, a bittersweet love story about a librarian who complies an encyclopedia of "obselete things," and tries to live his life surrounded by objects that technology has rendered extinct. Dr. Elizabeth Fortenbery, a sociology professor at Tacoma Community College, will discuss what can be lost when a language disappears.

Alien and 12 Monkeys were picked in collaboration with the speakers, but Obselidia was picked by The Grand's Executive Director Philip Cowan who met Obselidia Director Diane Bell at Sundance a couple years ago," explains Powers. "A requirement of our Science on Screen grant was that one of three films had to have been honored as a Alfred P. Sloan Foundation film, which Obselidia has. The Foundation works to increase visibility for new, generally very indie films that, to quote the Foundation, ‘probe science and technology with insight and depict scientists and engineers in fresh, entertaining or provocative ways.'" 

Each program, which consists of a short lesson and the feature film, will begin at 6:45 p.m.

I'd give The Grand an "A" for their project.

ALIEN WITH DR. JIM GAWEL, 6:45 p.m., Wednesday, May 29, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $4.50-$9, 253.593.4474

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