Neuroscience and Spooky Cinema


Rodrigo Pena, Ph.D.

Neuroscience and Spooky Cinema

Synaptic Popcorn Cinema Aims to Demystify Complex Brain Science Through Movies

A new science and culture series at Florida Atlantic University’s John D. MacArthur Campus at Jupiter is using film to help decode complex topics of neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

Rodrigo Pena, Ph.D., assistant professor in biological science in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, designed the program, “Synaptic Popcorn Cinema,” as an opportunity to get neuroscience out of the lab and classroom and make it accessible to everyone.

“I wanted to do a project like Synaptic Popcorn to promote interaction, so people can see that talking about neuroscience is not that scary,” Pena said. “We put faculty and students in the same place to have discussions in a relaxed setting.”

Each installment in the Synaptic Popcorn series matches a film to a research study. Attendees are encouraged to read the study ahead of the movie. Following each screening is a discussion led by Pena and other faculty.

Most of the movies in the series fall into the thriller, science fiction or horror genre. For instance, one of the films is called “The Brain That Won’t Die,” which is about a brain transplant gone wrong. To accompany the film, Pena chose a scientific article about the real feasibility of brain transplants. Another film, “You Go to My Head,” is a romantic thriller about amnesia and is paired with a paper about short- versus long-term memory.

“The goal is to use cinema as a way to bring people together and to expose people with different backgrounds and interests to this kind of research,” Pena said.

Pena, who is a recent addition to the FAU faculty, said he’s passionate about collaboration. He was drawn to his specialty, computational neuroscience, because he saw the multi-disciplinary, collaborative potential of the field. The discussions during Synaptic Popcorn encourage participants to think about the many connections neuroscience has to other disciplines, including artificial intelligence, computational science and psychology, he said.

Synaptic Popcorn Cinema is every other Wednesday at 5 p.m. in room AD 119 on the Jupiter campus.

Upcoming dates:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 1
  • Wednesday, Nov. 15
  • Wednesday, Nov. 29

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