The Daily Gamecock

Science on Screen series connects science, pop culture

<p>The Nickelodeon's Science on Screen series, which kicked off Tuesday, seeks to break the mold and showcase science as entertainment.</p>
The Nickelodeon's Science on Screen series, which kicked off Tuesday, seeks to break the mold and showcase science as entertainment.

The Nickelodeon theater hosted scientist Marco Valtorta and screened the film "Short Circuit" on Tuesday as a kick-off of the theater's participation in the nationwide Science on Screen series.

Science on Screen is a series in which movie theaters across the country screen classic scientific films and documentaries, presented by scientists who are conducting groundbreaking research. The series connects science and popular culture and proves that science has more of a presence in everyday life than often thought. 

"Short Circuit" is about a military robot prototype that is struck by lightning and acquires lifelike and particularly humanlike qualities and emotions. The movie, released in 1986, is a comical and lighthearted presentation of highly technical computer science contrasted with themes of humanity, and it is an excellent film to present ideas of technology and computer science to the general public.

Valtorta, a USC professor, was the guest speaker of the night and presented the film, giving a detailed account of artificial intelligence before the movie began. A highly qualified computer scientist, Valtorta has a Ph.D. from Duke University and a degree in electrical engineering from Politecnico di Milano in Milan, Italy.

“It does provide a fun way to think about some scientific topics," Valtorta said about the Science on Screen series and its relevance to USC and Columbia as a whole. "Entertainment is often seen as separate from science and I think trying to bridge that gap is a good thing.”

Valtorta hopes that people will think of computer science as a valuable and interesting career path.

"There are a lot of exciting things," Valtorta said. "There are a lot of problems that involve real questions like being able to think, being alive as we saw here, and we shouldn’t lose that as we concentrate on the more technical details of our discipline.”

Computer science, although technical, deals with other issues that require those in the field to be not just scientists, but also real people, as the characters and plot in "Short Circuit" suggest. If science is as present in everyday life as the Science on Screen series suggests, then we must all be part-scientist at heart.