SCIENCE SCAN

SCIENCE SCAN

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

REALITY TELEVISION

The people behind the titles

"The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers," Nova

This Web-only series, at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/secretlife/#, features interviews with working scientists who lead double lives. For example, there's Erika Ebbel, the biochemist -- and pageant queen. In a two-minute video, an interviewer asks Ebbel 10 questions about her twin occupations. Viewers find out that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad and former Miss Massachusetts would rather win the Nobel Prize than be crowned Miss America, prefers heels to flats and thinks that the worst part of competing in pageants is the glue she has to use to keep her swimsuit in place. Nova has interviewed about a dozen folks, including a climate scientist who juggles, a geologist who doubles as a Native American dancer and a roboticist who does extreme sports on the side. More videos will be added this month. The video vignettes not only entertain, they humanize scientists with intimidating job titles such as astrophysicist. (He seems very down-to-earth when discussing his cosmic tie collection.)

CLIMATOLOGY

The forecast is gloomy

"The Weather of the Future" (Harper, $25.99)

Using advanced climate models, Heidi Cullen predicts extreme weather in her new book, "The Weather of the Future." Assuming that carbon-emission levels remain the same as they are today, the climatologist predicts what will happen to the Central Valley of California (droughts), Bangladesh (rising sea levels) and South Australia (fires), among other locations. Cullen even foresees Xavier, a Category 4 hurricane, slamming into New York City in 2050. No climate model, no matter how sophisticated, could predict a hurricane that far in advance, so clearly Cullen is taking some creative license to make a point. Oddly, she writes in the past tense to describe future events. For example: "Residents of South Australia awoke on the first morning in December 2019 to face yet another sustained warning of catastrophic fire danger." Only time will confirm or contradict Cullen's grim outlook.

-- Rachel Saslow


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