State’s Science on Screen reaches out to adults

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) wears battle-scarred Mark III armor in “Iron Man.” The 2008 movie will be shown as part of the March 14 Science on Screen event at the State Theatre.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) wears battle-scarred Mark III armor in “Iron Man.” The 2008 movie will be shown as part of the March 14 Science on Screen event at the State Theatre. Marvel Entertainment

There’s a double dose of Science on Screen next weekend at the State Theatre: a little heart-pumping entertainment for youths and a delectable special treat for adults.

Science on Screen pairs expert speakers on a variety of science-based subjects with popular films that enhance each program, geared to middle school, high school and college students. A special March 16 program for adults is part of the National Evening of Science on Screen presented by 22 independent theaters nationwide.

The programs have become an important part of the educational mission for the State Theatre, which begins its fourth year offering the monthly programs and its third year taking part in the national event. Theater Executive Director Sue Richardson said reaching parents is part of the special evening’s goal.

“If parents catch the science bug, they’ll pass it on to their children. If they are exposed to the joy of science and the significance of it in growing a well-rounded student who goes on to achieve higher academic levels, and then goes on to become a positive presence in the workforce, we’ve accomplished something great,” Richardson said in an email interview.

First up will be the regular free March 14 morning event, “The Cardioid Project,” geared to students. Speaker Dave Richards is a computational physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he leads a team working with scientists at IBM to develop new models and methods for simulating the human heart using supercomputers. Richards’ lecture will be followed by a screening of the blockbuster 2008 film “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey Jr.

The March 16 national evening event features Ken Albala, Ph.D., a professor of history at the University of the Pacific in Stockton and director of UOP’s food studies master’s program in San Francisco. He’ll speak on “The Physiology of Taste.” Albala’s presentation will be followed by a screening of the 1987 film “Babette’s Feast.” Admission to this event is $8.

“He’s a very respected and renowned food historian who’s far more than a professor,” Richardson said of Albala. “Ken is a passionate writer, cook and lecturer and he’s bringing food, film and science together in one tasty evening that foodies and anyone with an interest in science and learning will enjoy. We’re quite fortunate that he agreed to be here.”

Science on Screen is part of an initiative funded through grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Coolidge Corner Theatre. There will be two more student-geared events this month: “Menacing Microbes” (paired with the 2011 film “Contagion”) on March 21 and “Computer Simulation” (with 2012’s “Robot and Frank”) on March 28.

The program has morphed since the State first began offering it, Richardson said. “We started with a wonderful committee of committed scientists and educators from (Modesto Junior College) ... and we charged for the programs that were geared toward adults. The programs then evolved into events that included giveaways, vendors, demonstrations, speakers and films. They were what I referred to as the ‘Cirque du Soleil of science.’

“The latest incarnation, and one we’re all quite proud of, is a partnership with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and very focused science programs geared toward middle school, high school and college students. The hard science is there, the learning component is there, and the presenters, all LLNL scientists, are masterful speakers who know how to engage kids. And the programs are now free to the students attending.”

Receiving a third grant for the program was a surprise for the Modesto theater, since Richardson had been told grants would be reduced for theaters previously awarded.

“I was shocked when we were selected as a recipient again this last grant cycle. So shocked that I questioned the program coordinator with the Coolidge Corner Theatre,” Richardson said. “And her response was so gratifying. She said the State is one of the most engaged and unique programs, and we’re the most ardent about the program. The fact that we keep changing this up and reinventing the program as we go is no problem in terms of the grant. In fact, that seems to be a plus, and we were granted $1,000 more than what I thought was possible.”

Reach Bee staff writer Pat Clark at pclark@modbee.com.


WHEN: “The Cardioid Project,” March 14, 9 a.m.; “The Physiology of Taste,” March 16, 7 p.m.

WHERE: State Theatre, 1301 J St., Modesto

TICKETS: March 14, free; March 16, $8

CALL: (209) 527-4697

ONLINE: www.thestate.org