Science video still images from “Mapping the Unseen: Science Film Showcase” AAAS event promotional materials.


Science on film—educational, beautiful, creepy.

This year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference was held in Chicago, and one of their off-site events was “Mapping the Unseen: Science Film Showcase,” screened at International House. They showed five blocks of short films followed by a Q&A. The general categories were documentary, narrative, and data visualization.

The data visualization films were exactly that: data animations and simulations. One showed the way blood flows through vessels; one showed Kepler planet candidates; one showed the distribution of matter throughout the entire universe. These were visually striking but esoteric.

The narrative ones included a meditation on the concept of absolute zero as told through an empty house and a didactic progression of humankind from hunter-gatherer to amniotic Matrix human battery. (That’s probably not what was intended, but the premise is the same—utter reliance on technology.)

I expected the narrative block to be the most riveting, but it was the documentary portion that I loved best. The woman in front of me, dead asleep on a stranger’s shoulder during one of the narratives, presumably felt the same.

Apparently, an unmanned balloon carrying a payload of less than 12 pounds does not need FAA approval, so kids from the Adler Planetarium’s summer camp sent one up. It was documented by 137 Films.

The Field Museum showcased their series the Field Revealed. They screened pieces on beetles and bioluminescence.

This was a nice collection of science videos, but there are so many more! Here’s a small selection of my favorites.*

Also from the Field Museum: The Brain Scoop, featuring Emily Graslie, chief curiosity correspondent. This series employs a “grossometer” at the beginning of the videos. I’m not at all squeamish, so take my word, pay attention to the rating. Seriously. Read more about this woman—and her insanely awesome work—over at

MinutePhysics is a YouTube channel of hand-drawn comics explaining physics in a clear and concise way. This is the first place that succeeded in explaining Schrödinger’s cat to me.

AsapSCIENCE is similar to MinutePhysics—a YouTube channel with hand-drawn comics (with some photographs)—and it asks the really important questions, like "Can your brain be hacked?" and "Are silent farts worse?"

Our very own Carl Sagan, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60, is well known and beloved by many, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his expansive work.

Another UChicago graduate, Caitlin Doughty, AB’12 (Class of 2006), produces an informative series on death called Ask a Mortician. If you liked Mary Roach’s Stiff, you will love this channel. Read more about Caitlin.

And last but not least, this animation that accompanied a RadioLab episode about loops. Gorgeous, informative, gross—everything I want in a science film.

*I cannot verify that the science in any of these videos is accurate, but I’m sure there are some experts in the comment sections, if you dare wade into those waters.