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The Best of Science Culture for June 2009

Computing cells, humans as chefs, time twisting on the dark side of the moon, and more.

Jun 14, 2009 5:00 AMMay 6, 2023 2:24 PM


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Directed by Duncan Jones A perfectly paced psychological thriller starring Sam Rockwell, Moon borrows from the industrial design of science fiction classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. Set in the near future, the film also recreates the sense of deep isolation in those movies as Sam (Rockwell) runs a mining operation alone on the far side of the moon. He is mining helium-3, fuel for Earth’s fusion reactors, aided by Gerty, the base’s robot, laconically voiced by Kevin Spacey. An angry man who has mellowed considerably during his three-year stint at the base, Sam looks forward to his upcoming return to Earth and his family. His plans are derailed, however, when he is trapped and injured in an accident outside the base—and rescued by a younger version of himself. The two Sams must work together to solve the mystery of their origins in a gripping race against time.


BRUCE ADOLPHE In collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, composer Bruce Adolphe has created a musical journey through modern neuroscience. Self Comes to Mind premiered in May at the American Museum of Natural History. Sparked by the research of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, the piece traces the evolution of consciousness and its accompanying emotions. A narrative text written by Damasio for the project inspired the combinations of instruments and melodic textures. “Our mind is like a score that’s continually evolving,” Adolphe says. “Just as breathing and heartbeats are rhythmical, the way we feel, remember, and plan extend musical possibilities.” The composer’s previous science-inspired works include the pleasingly dramatic Tyrannosaurus Sue, which tells the tale of the largest T. rex ever found. Find out about performances and recordings at thelearningmaestros.com.


Nova Sciencenow

PBS, Tuesday, June 30, at 9 p.m. (EDT): This hit science series, hosted by rock-star astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, returns for a new season. The premiere visits a farm that grows diamonds indistinguishable from those collected in mines. Tyson also investigates how microbial forensics helped scientists determine the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001. The stories are punchy and informative, and Tyson’s playful inquisitiveness and energy are as infectious as ever.

Space Week Science Channel, June 21–26: Grab some Tang and strap in: During a nearly weeklong celebration of spaceflight, six stunning specials explore how NASA assembles a space shuttle; investigate secrets of the cosmos with physicist Michio Kaku; ponder where humans might live beyond Earth; examine what Saturn’s moon Titan can teach us about the origin of life; and salute nearly two decades of discoveries from the Hubble Telescope. For more details, visit sciencechannel.com.


Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham Is your stove the ultimate symbol of your humanity? Biological anthropologist Wrangham makes a fascinating argument that cooking was the key advance that made us who we are. The use of fire freed our ancestors from hours of laborious chewing and rendered food easier to digest (not to mention making it safer to sleep on the ground instead of in trees). Thus it may have fueled our big brains and spurred social organization.


by Dennis Bray Neurobiologist Bray says that cells do not just live—they compute. Molecular circuits handle input, send messages, store memories, and perform feats of logic. Drawing on the similarities between Pac-Man and an amoeba and efforts to model the human brain, this absorbing read shows that biologists and engineers have a lot to learn from working together.

Masters of Sex

by Thomas Maier Researchers (and lovers) William Masters and Virginia Johnson shocked the medical establishment by investigating the raw biology of human sex. Maier’s illuminating biography delves into the lives ?of the couple that started science’s sexual revolution.


by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman Futurist Kurzweil and homeopathic physician Grossman present a comprehensive health program intended to keep you alive until technology defeats disease and mortality. Their survey of the killers that bring us down and the science of how to avoid them is engrossing, but we are taking our supplements with a big grain of salt.

Fixing My Gaze by Susan R. Barry Neuroscientist Barry spent a lifetime without depth perception, ever since her eyes crossed when she was an infant. Although her doctor said her 2-D vision would be permanent, Barry retrained her eyes and brain until her sight burst into three dimensions. Her buoyant journey into stereovision is an eye-popping ride.

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