The Festival’s ever-popular Cool Jobs is back with a jaw-dropping show that brings you face-to-face with amazing scientists with amazing jobs. Imagine having an office that’s a zoo and co-workers that are lemurs and porcupines. How about getting paid to build machines that can read people’s thoughts. Or imagine your desk was a basketball court and your clients were superstars trying to improve their game through biomechanics? Well, you don’t have to just imagine. Hear from scientists who have these jobs—find out what they do, how they do it, and how they got the coolest and weirdest gigs on the planet. The program begins with Alan Alda hosting The Flame Challenge Prize Announcement. The contest, conceived by Alda and Stony Brook University’s Center for Communicating Science, called on scientists worldwide to give their best explanation of how a flame works—but in a way that makes sense to a kid. The winner was chosen by hundreds of 11-year olds around the country.
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Alan Alda, a seven-time Emmy Award–winner, played Hawkeye Pierce and wrote many of the episodes on the classic TV series M*A*S*H, and appeared in continuing roles on ER, The West Wing, 30 Rock, and The Blacklist. He has starred in, written, and directed many films, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. His interest in science led to his hosting the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years, on which he interviewed hundreds of scientists. Also on PBS he hosted The Human Spark, winning the 2010 Kavli Science Journalism Award, and Brains on Trial in 2013. On Broadway, he appeared as the physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED. He is the author of the play Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie. He has won the National Science Board’s “Public Service Award,” the Scientific American “Lifetime Achievement Award,” and the American Chemical Society Award for “Public Service,” among others. He is a Visiting Professor at Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.
Canadian rap artist, writer, and former tree-planter, Baba Brinkman has personally planted more than one million trees in the Rocky Mountains. After graduating with an M.A. in comparative literature in 2003, he began his career as a rap troubadour. To date, Brinkman has released seven solo albums and written or co-written four hip-hop theatre shows—winning three awards and entertaining thousands of people during his six seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
His lyrical masterpiece, The Rap Guide to Evolution, won the prestigious Scotsman Fringe First Award in Edinburgh in 2009, and was nominated for a 2012 Drama Desk Award. The show has been performed off-Broadway and on tour in the USA, Australia, and the UK, in addition to several TEDx conferences and on The Rachel Maddow Show on U.S. national television. Brinkman is a recent winner of the National Center for Science Education’s “Friend of Darwin Award” for his efforts to increase the public appreciation of evolutionary biology.
Cynthia Bir studies what happens to the human body after sports injuries, ballistic impacts and explosive blasts. She is known worldwide for her research into the effects of blunt ballistic impacts from rubber bullets and other less-lethal ammunition, and most recently, she has been investigating how explosions can cause unseen neurological trauma. She currently appears on television as the lead scientist for ESPN’s “Sport Science” and National Geographic’s “Fight Science,” where she helps reveal the biomechanical secrets of mixed martial arts fighters, special-ops soldiers,ninja masters and police canines.
Bir is a professor of biomedical engineering and the director of orthopaedic surgery research at Wayne State University in Michigan, and she sits on the NATO Human Factors and Medicine Panel for Improvised Explosive Devices. She has also consulted on television shows such as “Stan Lee’s Superhumans” and the BBC documentary series “The Indestructibles.” Bir was selected as a Crain’s Detroit Business “Woman to Watch” in 2008.
Jarod Miller is a young naturalist, zoologist, pet expert, and regular guest lecturer for zoos, universities, and promotional events, having lectured on captive management and wildlife conservation at venues including the White House. He is also the former executive director of the Binghamton Zoo in Binghamton, New York, and was the youngest accredited zoo director in the United States at age 25.
Since he was 10, Jarod has both propagated and worked to conserve endangered animal species. He has raised, studied and handled a tremendous variety of wildlife including large cats, bears, prosimians (such as lemurs and bush babies), large and small primates, birds of prey, crocodiles and their related species, venomous snakes and reptiles, and large hoofed animals, among many others. Jarod is also experienced in the research and data collection of captive and wild specimens. As a teenager he also trained champion dogs for obedience competitions and national showmanship.
Wendy Suzuki is a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University. At NYU she studies the brain areas important for long-term memory, as well as the effects of physical exercise on learning, memory, and attention in people. She runs an active research lab, teaches extensively at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and is involved in leadership training for women and new scientists. Wendy Suzuki is also a new author and her first book, Healthy Brain Happy Life, will be published by HarperCollins in 2015.
Adam Wilson was the first person to communicate over the Internet using only his mind. The biomedical engineer studies neural prosthetic devices that can allow people with severe motor disabilities, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease or “locked-in” syndrome, to communicate with the outside world. The brain-computer interface software he helped develop, BCI2000, lets people spell out messages by reading their brain activity as they focus on flashing letters on a screen. After Wilson demonstrated it by posting to Twitter from his brain—“USING EEG TO SEND TWEET,” he wrote—he was named one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant Ten” young scientists of 2009, and TIME called the brain-twitter interface one of the 10 best inventions of the year.
Wilson received his Ph.D. in from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009. Now at the University of Cincinnati, he has used his BCI system to study brain activity in people with severe traumatic brain injury and stroke, measuring changes in brain waves that can help predict a person’s long-term outcome following a brain injury. Wilson has given many presentations and organized many hands-on neural prosthetic and neuroscience workshops for middle-school, high-school, and college students to demonstrate his exciting new field of research.