Clever Apes: Light sabers and a fish choir

October 20, 2010

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Malcolm MacIver with one of his weakly electric fish. He's colaborating on an art installation with Marlena Novak and Jay Alan Yim, called "Scale," opening in Europe. (Gabriel Spitzer / WBEZ)

One of the things I've discovered meeting all these clever apes is that the boundary between science and art is a porous one. Science is a highly creative pursuit -- it depends on discovering new connections, making guesses about mysterious gaps in our knowledge and then imagining possible outcomes. In some ways, even science fiction is born of the same impulse as rigorous science.

In that spirit, I'll be joined tonight on stage at Northwestern University by four preeminent scientists to discuss how their fields, and science in general, are portrayed on the big screen. It's called "Mutants, Andriods and Cyborgs: The Science of Pop Culture Films." We'll screen some great moments form sci-fi cinema, and talk light sabers, genetic master races, mind-wiping and, of course, robots. Still some seats left!

One of the experts joining us is Malcolm MacIver, who works at the intersection of biology, robotics, neuroscience and engineering. Much of his work centers around weakly electric fish, for reasons that may not at first be terribly obvious. These animals provide a tailor-made model for studying neural responses to stimuli.

And they have another property, which inspired an extracurricular activity. Click the listen link above to learn about Scale, an art installation made up of a choir of weakly electric fish. Visitors will be able to "conduct" the choir with a modified Wii-mote. It debuts next month in the Netherlands, but I'm pulling for a stateside showing soon.

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