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Experts to Examine the Science -- and Fiction -- of Classic Sci-Fi Films

Four Northwestern University experts will join WBEZ’s Gabriel Spitzer Wednesday, Oct. 20, for a look at the science portrayed in classic science fiction films and discuss what really is possible now and likely in the future.

“Mutants, Androids, and Cyborgs: The Science of Pop Culture Films” will be held at 7 p.m. at the Ryan Family Auditorium of the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus. (Doors open at 6 p.m.)

Clips of films such as “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” “The Matrix” and “Minority Report” will be shown, and Northwestern professors Todd Kuiken, M.D., Malcolm MacIver, Thomas Meade and Catherine Woolley will discuss how close the science resembles the facts. (Their areas of expertise include prosthetics, robotics, nanotechnology and neuroscience.)

Guided by Spitzer, who hosts “Clever Apes,” WBEZ’s recurring science segment, the scientists will try answering these questions and more:

  • Could we ever selectively erase experiences from our memories?
  • Upload information directly to our brains?
  • Control robotic limbs with our minds, like Luke Skywalker?
  • Build spider robots that seek us out and scan our retinas for identification?

A question-and-answer session will close the program, followed by a reception with movie theater snacks and drinks.

Kuiken is professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and biomedical engineering and director of the Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. MacIver is associate professor of biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and neurobiology and physiology. Meade is the Eileen M. Foell professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular and cell biology, neurobiology and physiology, and radiology. Woolley is professor of neurobiology and physiology and director of Northwestern’s Biological Imaging Facility.

Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for WBEZ members and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased in advance on the WBEZ website ( and at the door. One hundred $5 tickets are available online to students entering the code “SCIFI.”

The event is produced by Science in Society, Northwestern’s office for science outreach and public engagement, and Chicago Public Media (WBEZ 91.5 FM).