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Three faculty members speaking in 'Sci Pop Talks!'

LINCOLN - Could chemistry help in surviving a zombie apocalypse?

Could mind control take place in the future?

Could the characters of the hit TV show “Breaking Bad” have made better decisions?

Doane professors Raychelle Burks, Ramesh Laungani and Kristopher Williams will examine these scientific topics as part of the upcoming speaker series “Sci Pop Talks!,” a collaboration with faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that begins Feb. 26. The series of eight discussions about how science and popular culture mix will be held weekly (with the exception of March 26) on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in Love Library on UNL’s City Campus.

20140224SciPop_RB.jpgDr. Burks, the first of the three Doane professors to appear in the series, will examine how learning chemistry could play into surviving a hypothetical zombie apocalypse on March 5. Burks said that understanding the biological and chemical make-up of zombies would help the living from becoming the living dead.

“Zombies are a great way to talk about science, from their biology and routes of infection (or) ‘zombification,’ to how the living can keep from becoming the undead,” Burks said.

Burks said she is looking forward to opening the discussion of the question sci-fi, horror and fantasy stories raise - could it really happen? She said she wants the audience to understand how science is applicable to all areas of life, even the make-believe.

“Nothing is too silly for science. It’s a way to look at the world,” Burks said.

20140224SciPop_RL.jpgDr. Laungani will examine the award-winning 2010 feature-length film “Inception”  in his speech “Making Inception Real” on March 19. The movie focuses on mind control and Laungani said there are multiple examples in nature where other organisms use mind control as a means of advancement. Laungani presents the question of whether humans can implant an idea into other humans and if they should. He said he wants listeners to see that, sometimes, fact can be stranger than fiction.

“(It will be) cool to not only show people this biological phenomenon, but to (also) extrapolate it to larger human interest,” Laungani said.

20140224SciPop_KW.jpgDr. Williams will attempt to connect game theory, the mathematical study of strategic decision-making, to the popular AMC show “Breaking Bad” on  April 16. He will be exploring the dilemmas characters of the show face, and how those situations can relate to everyone else. Williams said that almost everyone needs to make decisions based on how others act, and his discussion will center on that topic.“

One of the major goals of game theory is to answer the question, ‘How can I predict the actions of others so that I make the best decision for myself?’” Williams said. “I want others to see that this question can be approached mathematically.”

Five UNL professors round out the other dates, touching on pop culture-inspired issues such as Harry Potter, vampires and chocolate. 

The full series schedule:

  • Feb.26: “The Story of Chocolate: Nutrition & Sensory Qualities,” Prof. Marilynn Schnepf, UNL
  • March 5: “Chemistry to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse,” Dr. Raychelle Burks, Doane College
  • March 12: “Alien Biochemistry in the Movies,” Prof. Mark Griep, UNL
  • March 19: “Making 'Inception' Real,” Dr. Ramesh Laungani, Doane
  • April 2: “Discovering the Hidden Truth: Forensics,” Prof. Ashley Hall, UNL
  • April 9: “Book 8: Harry Potter and the Magic of Science,” Prof. Rebecca Y. Lai, UNL
  • April 16: “Game Theory and Breaking Bad,” Dr. Kristopher Williams, Doane
  • April 23: “Interview with the Vampire - Decoded by Scientists,” Prof. Rebecca Y Lai, UNL

UNL Librarian Joan Barnes helped organize the series and will be live tweeting the speeches with a student assistant. The tweets will be categorized under the hashtag #SciPopTalks.

“Sci Pop Talks!” begin Feb. 26 in Love Library’s Mezzanine Study Room. The talks are free and open to the public. The series is sponsored by UNL Libraries, the UNL Chemistry Department and Doane.