LA LA LAB – From bench to couch: Cinema meets science

Why not combine your love for movies with your passion for science? (image from

As PhD students, we have learned to educate ourselves: read articles, talk with other scientists, find our own answers to our scientific questions. Sometimes it is hard to keep on going, to always be updated, motivated, and strong.
We all have those days when you wake up in the morning and think: “Please bed, hold me tight and do not let me go!!!”
Sometimes we need to be recharged; we need to be inspired and motivated again!

Scientifically speaking, conferences, international meetings, private talks with the PhD supervisor can be a great help.… sometimes!
But another great source of inspiration is the whole world around us, full of people with many experiences, different approaches and different points of view.
I’d say we have two choices: we pick the most brilliant scientist we know and talk to him/her for hours until we find our motivation back; or we embrace another powerful form of story telling: the cinema. A movie can talk to us in many different forms: with the music, dance, dialogue, colors, scene design, and the right movie on a bad day can lift up our mood and let us find a new perspective to live our PhD life! A movie is first of all a story.

If we are going through a tough time: no experiment works, no progress is made – then we need to learn from someone else’s experience and learn how other great scientists in the past went through hard times and how they found their way to make a difference.
There are many movies that are suitable for this purpose, and fortunately for us, we can choose what fits best to our own need!


Here are some suggestions:

As biologist, the story of the discovery of the DNA structure sounds attractive, doesn’t it?!
In this regard “Life story” (or “The race for the double helix”) might be what we need to watch. It is a TV film directed in the late 80s that describes the long research of Francis Crick, James D Watson, Rosaline Franklin and Maurice Wilkins and their final success in the description of the DNA structure and the birth of the new field of molecular biology.
The movie describes not only the research work but also the personal life of each character, underlining how variable the attitude of a scientist to a scientific problem can be.


There is another movie shot in the late 80s worth mentioning: this is the story of Diane Fossey, a zoologist and primatologist who dedicated her life to studying Gorillas in Rwanda. She embraced the cause of mountain gorillas, fighting to prevent their extinction and promoting the development of the field of primatology, the branch of zoology that studies primates.
The movie “Gorillas in the mist” is inspired by the autobiographic book written by Fossey in the 18 years of studies in Africa, and it combines her scientific study with her own personal story.


When we talk about pioneers of science, what is the first name that comes to your mind?! Charles Darwin of course!
If you are a big fan of evolution and history of science, “Creation is certainly a movie you will appreciate.
It is a story of science against faith, evolution against religion, and how a revolutionary theory can challenge science and religion all at once. It also includes some interesting input about Darwin’s health, which deeply influenced his life and his research around the world.


Certainly the life and career of Steven Hawkin has a great impact on the modern cinematography: in the last 15 years 2 movies have been shot to tell the story of this unique modern scientist: “Hawking”, television film of 2004 and “The theory of Everything” produced in 2014.
Hawkin not only could deeply change the modern physics and astronomy, but he made his field accessible to many people, with books, documentaries and even children’s book designed to explain theoretical physics in an accessible fashion.


If you like to squeeze your brain with numbers, theories and a quite intriguing plot, prepare a big bowl of popcorn, take your favorite blanket and chill out on your couch with “The Imitation Game” on the screen.
The story of the mathematician Alan Turing and his team of code-breakers during War World II will let you appreciate the dark beauty of math!


History gave us many stories to tell, many scientists to remember. Most of them are revolutionary, innovative, and crazy stories of very difficult lives, but they are also stories of success and new discoveries that can still inspire who is going through the very same hard life in Science.
No matter how hard it can be, we are all part of this story, we are all making a movie of some discovery.
“….if each of us, perhaps, can catch some gleam of knowledge which modestly insufficient in itself, may add to man’s dream of truth, it is by this small candles in our darkness that we see before us, little by little, the dim outlines of that great plan that shaped the universe…”
Marie Curie’s speech in the movie “Madame Curie”, 1943


Author: Teresa Frasconi