Science on the Screen

Popular films and documentaries depicting themes related to science, technology, math and engineering, followed by short talks and conversations with leading experts from the University of Chicago and special guests.

This series aims to inform and engage people about the science of everyday living, from health and climate change to cosmological breakthroughs that change our understanding of the world around us. 

Film selections are based on the strength of the story and appeal of scientific concepts presented in the film. The series is sponsored by The University of Chicago’s Office of Research, Innovation and National Laboratories. For more information, or if you would like to submit an idea for a future event, please contact Rhianna Wisniewski at


Past Events

Ex Machina | May 14, 2016

Watch a screening of ‘Ex Machina’ and join University of Chicago scientists and experts who will explore the legal, social and technical challenges of building machines with artificial intelligence. The panel will address these and other questions:

  • Should individuals create human-level A.I.? what are the social implications?
  • What tasks can current machine learning systems do better than humans and what kind of math and science principles are they based on?
  • Is it more challenging to imbue a machine with feelings thatn it is to imbue it with thought?
  • Could a human-level A.I. its human counterpart and if so, how long would it take?
  • Can brain-machine interfaces lead us to the merginf of artificial and natural intelligence?



Director of Law & Ethics, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago
Visiting Assistant Professor, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law


Associate Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy
Committee on Neurobiology
Committee on Computational Neuroscience


Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy
Committees on Computational Neuroscience and Neurobiology
University of Chicago


Assistant Professor
The Machine Learning Group
Computer Science & Statistics
The University of Chicago

Read about the event >>

The Martian | January 9, 2016

Watch a screening of ‘The Martian’ and join the discussion afterwards about Mars, icy moons and exoplanets with University of Chicago geophysical and planetary scientists Edwin Kite and Mohit Melwani Daswani moderated by Andy Davis, Chair and Professor of the Department of Geophysical Sciences.

Following are some of the topics and questions the panel will address:

  • Galactic cosmic radiation
  • Why is the air thin? (dust storm; launch of Mars Ascent Vehicle)
  • Why Watney is on Mars? (sample return vs. in-situ analysis)
  • Soil chemistry (growing potatoes)
  • Robot-human interaction (do we need humans?)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Max Palevsky Cinema
Ida Noyes Hall
1212 E 59th St, Chicago, IL

Film running time: 144 minutes

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to earth that he is alive. Meanwhile, back on Earth, members of NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring him home, while his crew mates hatch their own plan for a daring rescue mission.

THE MARTIAN, a 2015 American science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, is based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name which was adapted into a screenplay by Drew Goddard.


A discussion and audience Q&A will follow the screening with:

ANDY DAVIS (Moderator)
Professor and Chair, Department of Geophysical Sciences
The University of Chicago

Senior Scientist, Enrico Fermi Institute

Assistant Professor in Geophysical Sciences
The University of Chicago

Postdoctoral Scholar in Geophysical Sciences
The University of Chicago

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Particle Fever | August 26, 2014

Imagine being able to watch as Edison turned on the first light bulb, or as Franklin received his first jolt of electricity?

PARTICLE FEVER gives audiences a front row seat to our generation’s most significant and inspiring scientific breakthrough as it happens. The film follows six brilliant scientists during the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, marking the start-up of the biggest and most expensive experiment in the history of the planet.

10,000 scientists from over 100 countries join forces in pursuit of a single goal: to recreate conditions that existed just moments after the Big Bang and find the Higgs boson, potentially explaining the origin of all matter. But our heroes confront an even bigger challenge: have we reached our limit in understanding why we exist? PARTICLE FEVER is a celebration of discovery, revealing the very human stories behind the tale of this epic experiment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
6:30 p.m.

Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts
Film Screening Room
915 E 60th St., Chicago, IL

A discussion with the following speakers follows the 99 minute screening:


Nima Arkani-Hamed (who’s featured in the film)
Professor, School of Natural Sciences
Institute for Advanced Study

Marcela Carena
Physics Professor, The University of Chicago
Senior Theoretical Physicist, Fermilab

Joseph Lykken
Deputy Director/Chief Research Officer, Fermilab

Rocky Kolb (Moderator)
Dean of the Division of the Physical Sciences
Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics, UChicago

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Your Inner Fish | April 3, 2014

Your middle ear comes from the jawbone of a prehistoric fish. Your skin and hair can be traced to a shrew-like mammal that lived around 195 million years ago. As for your bad back–well, you can thank your primate ancestors for that. How did the human body become the complicated, quirky and amazing machine it is today?

Follow the scientific adventure story in Your Inner Fish, a new PBS series premiering April 9 at 10/9C that takes a fresh look at human evolution. Produced by Tangled Bank Studies and Windfall Films, the series is based on the best-selling book of the same name by University of Chicago paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin. Using fossils, embryos and genes, Shubin reveals how our bodies are the legacy of ancient fish, reptiles and primates – the ancestors you never knew were in your family tree. This program will feature the first episode of the three-part science series.

Episode One of the new PBS Series

Thursday, April 3, 2014
6:30 p.m.
Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts
Performance Hall
915 E 60th St, Chicago, IL



A discussion with Neil Shubin and the Field Museum’s distinguished service curator Lance Grande follows the 60-minute screening.

Neil Shubin
Robert R. Bensley Professor, Organismal Biology and Anatomy
Associate Dean for Academic Strategy
The University of Chicago

Lance Grande
Distinguished Service Curator, Geological
The Field Museum

Read an article about the event >>

How to Survive a Plague | January 17, 2014

How to Survive a Plague is an award-winning film story about the inspiring young people who created the most powerful social movement of our time, saving their own lives & millions more.

Director David France’s film How To Survive A Plague has been hailed by the New York Times as a “moving and meticulous documentary about AIDS activism in the late 80s and early 90s,” and won Best Documentary at the 2012 Gotham Independent Film Awards. It tells the story of how AIDS went from a death sentence to a survivable disease. Ordinary people and organizations such as ACT UP and TAG fought for the drugs that would save millions of lives. Their story stands as a powerful inspiration to future generations, a road map, and a call to arms.


The 120 minute film screening will be followed by a discussion with:

Kristen Schilt (moderator)
Assistant Professor in Sociology
The University of Chicago

Melissa Gilliam, MD, MPH
Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Pediatrics; Chief of the Section of Family Planning & Contraceptive Research; Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the Biological Sciences Division; and Director of Ci3

Judy Hoffman
Filmmaker and Professor in the Cinema and Media Studies
The University of Chicago

Harold Pollack
The Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration
The University of Chicago

Pandora's Promise | May 5, 2013

Fear of meltdowns like Fukushima have made nuclear energy synonymous with the disasters of the modern world. But what if everyone has nuclear power wrong?

UChicago students and faculty are invited to join the debate and participate in a screening and discussion of soon-to-be-released PANDORA’S PROMISE, a new documentary from Academy Award®-nominated director Robert Stone.

A hit at the Sundance Film Festival, PANDORA’S PROMISE dares to tackle the emerging divide within the environmental movement over nuclear energy through the stories of thinkers, experts and authors who have come to change their minds about nuclear power. The film interweaves narratives from Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas and Michael Shellenberger. Stone pierces commonly held assumptions and provides a captivating deconstruction of myths about radiation, waste and weapons, taking viewers on a mind-altering journey.


The 87-minute film screening will be followed by a discussion with:

Kennette Benedict (Moderator)
Executive Director and Publisher,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Hussein S. Khalil
Director, Nuclear Engineering Division,
Argonne National Laboratory

Robert Rosner
William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics, UChicago; Co-director, Energy Policy Institute at Chicago

Robert Stone
Filmmaker and Director of PANDORA’S PROMISE

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory | April 21, 2013

Catch a screening of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” starring Gene Wilder and stay for delicious science demonstrations.

The 100-minute film, a 1971 musical film adaptation of the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, will be followed by hands-on activities related to food science, chemistry and physics. Kids will take part in making freeze dried ice cream, breakable bananas and glowing pickles and other fun experiments. All ages welcome. Activities are designed for children ages 5–12. Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Admission is free. Free snacks and drinks will be provided. Seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Registration is now full. We invite you to sign up for the waiting list, and to be notified about upcoming events.

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A Beautiful Mind | December 6, 2012

A Beautiful Mind is a 2001 American biographical drama film based on the life of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. Directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman, the film was inspired by a bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1998 book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar. Russell Crowe, along with Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany and Christopher Plummer star in the film. Rating: PG-13.

Thursday, December 6, 2012
Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts


The 135-minute film will be followed by a 30-minute discussion with:

Michael Marcangel
Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

Roger B. Myerson
Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago

Robert Rosenberg (moderator)
Associate Vice President for Communication and Adjunct Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago

Read an article about the event >>