The Sciences

The Fastest Way to a Chemistry Student's Brain Is Through Hollywood Movies

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMar 23, 2011 4:28 PM

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This is a guest post created by Mark Griep at the NSF EPSCoR-sponsored workshop "Science: Becoming the Messenger" held in Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 9, 2011. Our morning exercise was to create a "message triangle" to help us communicate our research. In the afternoon, we used our triangle to write a blog entry. This is mine.

To fight the evil forces of scientific illiteracy, I have discovered many ways to use movies and movie clips to teach chemistry in and out of the classroom. They grab student attention, provide a bit of fun, allow me to teach some chemistry, and help train students to recognize chemistry when they encounter it in the real world. My goal is to motivate them to want to learn more chemistry outside the classroom. Most people go to the movies for escapist entertainment or to enjoy the experience of watching glamorous people act out the complex social issues of the day. As a chemist who loves watching movies, I especially enjoy finding movies with scenes dealing with chemicals or with chemists as characters. In my decade-long search, my wife and I have watched over 400 of them, and used dozens of them to teach chemistry. For my purposes, the most useful movies have a ~3 min "chemical" scene that connects to the material in the classroom. On the other hand, I've even bundled several movie clips together to create themed presentations for high school and college students. The best thing about using movie clips in the classroom is they embed the chemistry within a story about people. When students watch these clips, they can imagine how they could interact with chemicals. Then, I follow with an explanation as to whether the chemistry in the clip is real or fake. Amazingly, the chemistry described in movies is usually real and, even when it is fictional, it is based on reality. You can visit my webpage to find a list of the movie clips I use most frequently. I?ve also co-written a book about 110 movies with chemistry in them called ReAction! Chemistry in the Movies. If you know of any movies containing chemical scenes, be sure to respond to this blog to let everyone know. Thanks for reading.

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