Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of September 26

A brief aside about this week’s listings.  This Friday Deepwater Horizon, a film about the explosion of that oil rig that led to a major ecological disaster, premieres in the United States.  It stars Mark Wahlberg (who is on Live with Kelly on Friday) but appears to focus primarily on those who were on the rig when catastrophe struck.

Tonight’s primary guest on StarTalk is Mayim Bialik.  She plays a neuroscientist on The Big Bang Theory and earned a Ph.D. in the subject.  The show continues its past practice of including a scientist as part of the discussion segments of the program, and Bill Nye continues to provide commentary on at least one of the topics covered in the show.  A new item from last week’s episode (already available as a podcast) was the inclusion of Mona Chalabi, data editor of The Guardian.  Next Monday’s episode will have tightrope walker Philippe Petit as the primary guest.

This appears to be a week for those playing doctors on television.  Rob Lowe joins the cast of hospital show Code Black as one of the doctors.  He was on Live with Kelly today (Monday), and with Stephen Colbert tonight.  Ken Jeong, who plays Dr. Ken in the show of the same name (and did practice medicine at one point), is on both Harry and @midnight on Thursday.  Michael Sheen, who plays sex research Doctor William Masters on Masters of Sex, was on The Talk today.  Kevin McKidd, who plays a doctor on Grey’s Anatomy, will be on Live with Kelly Thursday.

In non-doctor guest news, Reid Hoffman, co-founder of the social media job site LinkedIn is on The Daily Show Wednesday.  Morgan Freeman, host of Through The Wormhole, will be on Live with Kelly and The Late Show Thursday.  He may be promoting the new season of Madam Secretary, on which he acts and serves as an executive producer, but he isn’t shy talking science and technology.

In content from last week of note, I’ll simply say that the patent Apple filed on a bag was a big hit on several late night programs, either in the monologue or as a distinct segment like this one from Conan.  Additionally, The Daily Show spent time covering Facebook on its September 22 show, though part of the segment was focused on the recently announced Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (named for the Facebook founder and his wife), which pledges $3 billion to combat disease and promote equality.

Another Marvel Movie, Another STEM Contest

Marvel recently announced another contest for young girls engaged with science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics (STEM).  Continuing a trend of movie tie-in STEM contests that goes back to at least the 2013 film Iron Man 3, the latest contest is called The Magic of STEM Challenge and is tied to the November release of the film Doctor Strange.

The name highlights part of the dramatic arc of the film – a neurosurgeon engaging with magic as he seeks to recover from an accident.  I have not seen the film, but it may bear some resemblance to how the Thor films have tried to explain the fantastical actions of those characters with some basis in science.  But don’t look too close (as you shouldn’t in any superhero film) or the gloss of scientific realism will disappear.

But I’m writing about the contest.  There’s a short window for entries, because the contest is open until October 5th.  Entrants are girls in the U.S. from 15-18 years old (grades 10-12), and must submit a video blog (vlog) on a scientific or technological questions.  The vlog can be no longer than 5 minutes, and are encouraged to find a mentor to help answer the question.  Rachel McAdams, who plays Doctor Christine Palmer in the film, explains the contest in this video with the help of the contest winner from the Captain America: Civil War STEM contest:

(I’ll note here that there is a pattern to these Marvel movie tie-in contests.  A video is typically involved, most of the competitions are geared toward young women and usually promoted by an actress playing a significant role in the film.  And you have to act fast once you hear about them.)

The five finalists will travel to the world premiere of the film in Los Angeles in late October, receive a $1,000 deposit in a savings account, and a tour of Disney Studios.  The grand prize winner will produce a science vlog under the mentorship of the Walt Disney Digital team, and it will be shown on one of the many different Disney media platforms.   Good luck to all the entrants.

Solar Power Matters To Letterman In His Retirement

I noted last year that David Letterman would be dealing with climate change in his first major post-retirement television gig.  As part of the second season of Years of Living Dangerously (now on the National Geographic channel), Letterman went to India to talk energy.  His episode will premiere on October 30, and there are now some video clips.

This first one focuses on Letterman’s interview with the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.

The second clip is about solar panels and reflects Letterman’s previous work in late night.

The program typically airs two ‘stories’ in each episode.  In addition to Letterman’s story, the October 30 premiere will include Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong investigating the adoption (or not) of solar power in the United States.  Continuing the late night trend, Aasif Mandvi, former correspondent for The Daily Show, is part of another episode in Season 2, focusing on how changes in drought patterns affect wildlife populations.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of September 19

A brief mention of last night’s Emmy Awards before diving into the listings.  Two of the lead acting Emmys were awarded to performers on science and technology themed shows.  Tatiana Maslany won for best lead actress in a drama.  She plays several clones in the show Orphan Black, and this was her second Emmy nomination.  Rami Malek, who plays Elliott on Mr. Robot, won for best lead actor in a drama.  Elliott is, among other things, a hacker.

Tonight is the debut of Season 3 of StarTalk on the National Geographic Channel.  His guest tonight is Whoopi Goldberg.  This marks a new night for StarTalk, which was on Sunday nights for its two seasons last year.  The show will eventually be online, but you will likely need a cable subscription to access it.  The StarTalk Live podcast will likely air a slightly extended version of each episode at a later date.  Host Neil deGrasse Tyson made the rounds last week, but I missed advance word of his appearance on ESPN’s SportsNation from September 13.

This week marks the beginning of the fall television season in the U.S.  There are two actors playing scientists making the rounds this week.  Lucy Liu plays Dr. Joan Watson on Elementary, which starts its fifth season in a couple of weeks.  On Thursday she will be on both The Talk and The Late Late Show.  Michael Weatherly plays a jury consultant on a new program called Bull.  I’m highly skeptical of how accurate the science might be on this program, but it doesn’t air until Tuesday.  Weatherly will be on The Talk and The Late Late Show today/tonight (Monday).

The new season also means appearances by other actors playing medical doctors.  Ellen Pompeo of Grey’s Anatomy is on The Late Late Show Wednesday.  Ken Jeong, who plays Dr. Ken, and did practice medicine at one time, is on The Tonight Show Thursday night.

Pop Music Can Sample Gravitational Waves

Simonne Jones is an electropop artist with a scientific background.  The multi-instrumentalist has a biomedical degree and worked in a genetics research lab before turning to a music career.  Popular Science profiled her earlier this year when her EP Gravity was released, and the album includes songs like “Gravity” and “Spooky Action” that show off her scientific bona fides.

Popular Science also commissioned her to create a song that used sonifications of research data.  The result is called “Alchemy” and includes data from the Large Hadron Collider and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory that has been converted into sound.  You can listen to it online, but my ears weren’t discerning enough to pick out the scientific sonifications.

So We May Be Getting The Astronaut Twin Movie We Didn’t Know You Wanted

Astronaut Scott Kelly recently retired from NASA after, among other notable things, completing a nearly one-year term on the International Space Station.  As sometimes happens, he will be writing a memoir (currently titled Endurance: My Year in Space), and it is expected to come out in November 2017.

What is not so common, at least with astronaut memoirs, is to have a movie come along with the book.  But that just might happen.  The Hollywood Reporter notes that Sony has purchased the movie rights for the book (H/T Vulture).  Of course, this is no guarantee of a film, but Scott Kelly is not the average astronaut.  For better or for worse, he has a bit more to his story that probably makes a movie much more likely.

Scott Kelly spent nearly a year on the International Space Station in part to participate in a study to better understand changes to the human body in space.  He is well suited because of his identical twin brother Mark, who is also a retired astronaut.  Apparently the two were quite competitive growing up, so it’s not that hard to envision some montages of identical brothers on the athletic field, in the classroom, in the cockpit, etc.

Mark is also married to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who served on the House Space, Science and Technology Committee and survived an assassination attempt a few years ago.  Both of the Kellys and Congresswoman Giffords will be involved with the development of the film.  No director or writer is currently attached, though it is possible that Scott Kelly’s co-writer, Margaret Lazarus Dean, may be involved with the script.

StarTalk Season 3 Begins September 19

I noted yesterday in the listings that Neil deGrasse Tyson is making the talk show rounds.  Today he was on the ESPN program SportsNation to promote the upcoming third season of the StarTalk television show.  Still on the National Geographic Channel in the U.S., the program will now premiere new episodes on Monday nights at 11.  This puts the program in direct competition with a few of the traditional late night programs for the first time.  In its previous timeslot on Sundays, StarTalk‘s major late night competition was Last Week Tonight on premium channel HBO.

(The StarTalk Radio program has expanded of late, with several of the program’s frequent guests and/or guest hosts now hosting episodes of Star Talk AllStars.  If past practice holds, episodes of the television show eventually end up on the podcast, which may also be available in your local radio market and/or Sirius XM satellite radio.)

Right now the only guests linked to a specific date are Whoopi Goldberg (September 19) and Mayim Bialik (September 26).  According to this publicity release from July, other guests for Season 3 will include:

Buzz Aldrin (astronaut)
Mayim Bialik (actor, “Big Bang Theory” and neuroscientist)
Ash Carter (U.S. Secretary of Defense)
Terry Crews (actor and former football player)
Brian Greene (theoretical physicist)
Herbie Hancock (musician) and Wayne Shorter (musician)
Simon Helberg (actor, “Big Bang Theory”)
Jeremy Irons (actor) and Matthew Brown (director)
Robert Kirkman (comic book writer and executive producer, “The Walking Dead”)
Jay Leno (comedian and talk show host)
Christopher Lloyd (actor) and Michelle Gomez (actor)
Bill Maher (comedian and talk show host)
Philippe Petit (tightrope walker)
Hope Solo (U.S. Soccer Team goalie)
Ben Stiller (actor and director)
Kathy Sullivan (astronaut and head of NOAA)
Jill Tarter (SETI astrophysicist)
Andy Weir (author, “The Martian”)

(Since the date of this press release, Hope Solo has been suspended from the U.S. Women’s National Team and may not return.  It’s not clear to me when the interview was recorded, so there may or may not be a proverbial elephant in the room.)

While I can’t guess why every single guest was booked, I can shed some light on a few.  Matthew Brown directed The Man Who Knew Infinity and Jeremy Irons starred in the film, which chronicles the life of mathematician Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel).  Both Christopher Lloyd and Michelle Gomez have played characters who do a lot of time travel (in Back to the Future and Doctor Who, respectively).  StarTalk has had talk show hosts and musicians as guests before, and we’ll see what links to science or technology might exist with either Ben Stiller or Terry Crews.

With 18 listed shows, this season of Star Talk will certainly run into 2017, possibly extended by no new episodes during the Thanksgiving and/or Christmas holidays.

You might find out more if you catch Tyson’s appearances on The Late Late Show (Wednesday night) or on Chelsea (released Wednesday on Netflix).  Or just wait for Monday’s new episode.