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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


Me and Isaac Newton
Directed by Michael Apted
First Look 11/00 DVD/VHS Documentary
Not Rated

Curiosity and creativity lie at the heart of the enterprise of science. That is the startling premise of this feature-length documentary by Michael Apted (Incident at Oglala and the Seven Up series). It zeroes in on the lives and work of seven scientists in very diverse fields. Me and Isaac Newton is divided into four sections: "Beginnings," where these men and women discuss their childhoods; "The Work," where they present their research; "Eureka," where the focus is upon intuition; and "The Future," where the scientists assess what lies on the horizon in their respective fields.

Certainly the most fascinating profile here is of Ashok Gadgil, born in India, who is an environmental physicist. He states: "My scientific interests are driven in some sense by what one could call the public good." We see him in Africa testing his water purifier — a solar-powered device to sterilize water for poverty stricken people. Whereas other scientists often get caught up in the intellectual gamesmanship of knowledge, it is refreshing to see someone who wants to apply his research to the needs of Third World people.

I was also quite impressed with the story of Patricia Wright, a primatologist who discovered a new species of lemurs in Madagascar. Her yearning to protect these animals from destruction by "slash and burn" farming led to an award of a MacArthur "genius grant" for her work. Eventually, she helped establish Ranomafana National Park, a site dedicated to integrated conservation and development of local flora and fauna.

Other profiles include that of Nobel Prize winner Gertrude Elion, a pharmaceutical chemist who developed a drug to treat acute leukemia; computer scientist Maja Mataric; cancer researcher Karol Sikora; cognitive scientist Steven Pinker; and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, the co-founder of "string theory."


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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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