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Ann Merchant: Empowering and Inspiring the Science Community through Media

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Aurora VanDam

Ritchie School Student Reporter

Feature  •

When you’ve watched a movie or television show in the past, say Breaking Bad or Iron Man, have you ever wondered how scientifically correct it is? Ann Merchant, the deputy executive director for communications at the National Academy of Science (NAS), visited DU to talk about just that. She initiated the Science & Entertainment Exchange Program eleven years ago with the NAS which consults with entertainment industries to give science advising in film, T.V., games, and even theatre, ensuring that films are as scientifically correct as possible.

With a background in creative writing, and as a young recently graduated woman, Ann took her first job with the National Academy of Sciences working in their publishing house. From that point on, Ann has been immersed in the science world acting as a bridge between science and communications. In her first few years working in the NAS she started to wonder “why is no one paying attention to scientists when they talk about climate change, and evolution, and vaccines?” With this in mind, Ann began to do outreach and communications for the Academy working to find creative modes to communicate science. With all of the misinformation going around with any given scientific topic, and no solid link between the science community and the general public, Ann continuously finds ways to “hit the brave button for the Academy” to fight sources of disinformation and misinformation by communicating STEM topics more effectively through forms of popular media.

Ann is a true visionary–her talk inspired a future where science can be accessible and enjoyable to all backgrounds and genders through forms of mass media. She hopes to do away with the popular notion of science being “boring” or “nerdy,” with movies such as the Marvel “Avengers” viewers can see superheroes double as scientists, allowing it to spark an interest in science for children and adults alike. The NAS has done science consulting on hundreds of popular movies and television shows in the last eleven years, such as: Watch Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Star Trek, the majority of Marvel films, as well as a large number of Disney films. Through famously enjoyed forms of television and media, Ann aims to demonstrate that creativity and science can, in fact, work together.

In addition to garnering a deeper interest in the sciences, Ann is also empowering, inspiring, and inviting marginalized groups of people to get involved in the sciences through imagery. Black Panther, the Marvel box-office hit, is an example of this–the NAS worked closely with directors and producers on this film, specifically on the character Shuri. The film itself empowered the African American community while Shuri as a character helped to further empower African American women to take a deeper interest in science. Ann affirmed, “We aim to create the world we want through showing women and people of color as scientists.” Her work with the NAS has been, and continues to be, a major contribution to the STEM community, and beyond, in her successful education and outreach efforts.

Watch Ann Merchant's full talk here.