Saturday, August 31, 2013

Through their lens: Ryan Fong learns the role of science and innovation in life as well as in the lab

This summer we're sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Ryan Fong did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Image of the 35mm film shown by Gerhard Bauer in his home studio. Fong submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

(Ryan also submitted a blog entry about her research project, which you can read here.)

For the UC Davis group, the second discipline we have been studying is the History of Film.

It has been an illuminating subject, starting with the invention of photography, sound recording, film recording, and finally a combination of these three techniques to produce color films as we know them. Finally, we learned about TV and recent digital inventions for sound and film.

To learn about the origins of a technology that many take for granted as a fixture of everyday life, it was amazing to see how science and human innovation created a revolution in entertainment – and really, in the preservation of history.

To start with, we learned how film is based on the concept of optical illusions – how the eye can be tricked to see a moving image if still images are moved fast enough. What was impressed upon us by Dr. Bauer was how little the film industry has deviated from its origins – proving the longevity and efficiency of the original system.

We also quickly learned how much digital formats sacrificed in terms of quality in the name of compatibility and ease of use. For example, although many of us use mp3 files in our daily lives, not everyone understands the significance of this file format. 90% of the original recording is lost to compress the file’s size, which is already a crude digital imitation of a true sound recording. Additionally, we learned how the movies will never be the same. Theaters have been converted to little more than glorified television. 35mm truly has no digital equal in quality.

One of the highlights of my internship experience this summer was seeing all that we learned about in action. Dr. Bauer maintains a working and professional-grade movie theater in his own home, with his training as a projectionist. While there, he also demonstrated records from the 20s, which astounded us in their high quality. He also displayed his skill as a drummer by playing along with a few of the records with his vintage drum set. We were also treated to seeing one of the first television sets, and the first color television set circa the 1950s. Using a transmitter he built himself, we were able to see modern programming displayed by the TVs all-original machinery.

But this was just the introduction. The main feature had yet to come. As we settled in with candy, popcorn, and sodas, we watched the Disney color cartoon shorts The Three Little Pigs and Moving Day. Moving Day was especially entertaining because it starred the Disney characters in their original forms. We then watched a news reel from 1939, which included events such as the coronation of Pope Pius XII, the Queen’s visit to America and meeting with the President, Lou Gehrig’s speech at his last baseball game, the Indianapolis Classic race, and the events surrounding the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Finally, we watched a Sherlock Holmes film, “The Hounds of Baskerville.”

While these pictures were playing, Dr. Bauer demonstrated the projectors’ function to us. Each film reel contained 6,000 feet of film for sixty minutes of playtime. It was truly a treat to see how the mechanisms we had learned about through lectures actually worked, such as the intermittent mechanism and vacuum tubes for sound amplification.

Through it all, the quality of the picture and sound was surprisingly exemplary, and made us all subscribers to Dr. Bauer’s teaching of “Analog Over Digital.” Having a ton of fun using the entertainment tools of a time past by taught us respect for the past and gave us an experience none of us is likely to be able to experience elsewhere.

All in all, studying a second discipline contributed to my internship experience. It provided a recreational and entertainment aspect to the program, as well as showing us, by example and in action, how scientists don’t necessarily confine their studies to just science. Thank you Dr. Bauer for opening your home and personal experience with us, and thank you CIRM for implementing the second discipline aspect to the program.

Ryan Fong

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