The Perfect Pairing

Science lectures featured with films


The idea of science embedded in movies is not new, and when the board of the Mesilla Valley Film Society (MVFS) noticed an available grant pairing science-related movies with real scientists, the board members were intrigued.

Board member Joel Segal took on the writing of the grant and, falling in love with the concept of pairing film and reason, was able to get the funds to bring a series to the Fountain Theatre working with some of the top scientists in the area.

“The concept of the ‘Science on Screen’ grant pairs movies that have scientific subject with a very knowledgeable speaker to speak to some theme with the movie,” Segal said. “The speaker can take it a lot of places. This year we have a Ph.D. in math, a Ph.D. astronomer and a woman who is an advocate for science education for women.”

In addition to the films and the speakers MVFS, with help from the grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Coolidge Corner Theatre, can also offer free attendance for up to 20 students. Segal said students who wish to get in free can ask for their tickets at the door.

The “Science on Screen” film series takes place one Sunday night per month for each of three months, pairing a film with an expert-led discussions of a scientific topic.  

“We mostly looked for speakers with a strength and then looked for the movies,” Segal said.

When astronauts blast off from the planet Mars in “The Martian,” they leave behind Mark Watney, presumed dead after a fierce storm. With meager supplies, the stranded visitor must use his wits, spirit and scientific knowhow to find a way to survive on the hostile planet. Astronomer William Stein will identify what the conditions are for a planet to support life as we know it and discuss under what conditions planets in our galaxy meet these conditions. Stein has been interested in astronomy since being a pre-teenager. In high school he built his first telescope, a six-inch Newtonian reflector. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, with a BA in Astronomy, he went to Indiana University where he received his master’s and doctoral degrees in Astronomy. He served in the Department of Defense for 34 years working on the design of imaging satellites. After retirement he was a senior research scientist at the Physical Science Laboratory at New Mexico State University and adjunct professor with the Astronomy, Geography and Survey Engineering Departments.

The film and lecture will take place on Feb. 11.

On March 10, “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap” exposes the dearth of female and minority software engineers and explores the reasons for this gender gap and digital divide. Melody Hagaman, senior professional development facilitator for BootUp PD (a 501c3 nonprofit) and 2019 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, will speak on practical strategies for increasing diversity and equity in STEM.   Hagaman has been a science and computer science teacher for 10 years and has won awards for her work in recruiting girls and minorities into computer science, including the National Center for Women in Information Technology Educator Award, the Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Teacher Award and the Golden Apple Foundation of NM Excellence in Teaching Award. 

The Coolidge/Sloan Foundation nationwide Science on Screen partnership, in a news release, says its mission is “to inspire in theater-goers an increased appreciation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics as compelling enterprises and vital elements of a broad understanding of human culture and current events.” The Mesilla Valley Film Society is one of 12 first-time 2023−24 Science on Screen grantees.

"These events, which pair expert speakers in 40+ states, demonstrate that science can illuminate films, just as films can illuminate science,” Segal said.

Segal joined the MVFS board responding to a call for volunteers at a time the society was struggling to keep the doors open. Since then, he has been helping with the financial end of the non-profit.

“I think the Fountain Theatre is a treasure and I wouldn’t want to see it go away,” he said.

Mesilla Valley Film Society, Science on Screen, science lectures