What Can Hollywood Teach Us about Our Planet?

on April 4, 2012 6:40 AM EDT

Tropical forrest
Tropical forrest (Photo: Flickr.com/FastPhive)

Plants have a lot to teach us about how our planet works. Further, movies like the blockbuster film Avatar, in which plants play an important role, can inspire us to pay closer attention to them. What are some lessons that the movies can teach us about our planet's vegetation?

The public has an opportunity to find out on April 12, when Jodie Holt, a professor of plant physiology at the University of California, Riverside and the botanical consultant for Avatar, will give a free lecture on campus in which she will discuss what Hollywood can teach us about our planet.

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Titled "Earth 101: What Hollywood Can Teach Us About Our Planet," the hour-long lecture will begin at 6 p.m. in Rooms D-E, University Extension Center (UNEX).

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Seating is open. Parking at UNEX will be free for lecture attendees.

Holt shaped Sigourney Weaver's character as a botanist in Avatar and helped create and name plants for the film. She also provided textual details for the game products the film launched. Her involvement with the film and her subsequent outreach to the public helped raise awareness of botany and its importance in people's imagination.

"Opening minds about botany and the importance of plants is a particular passion of mine," Holt said. "Although I've taught botany at UCR for many years, working as the botanical consultant on Avatar provided an opportunity to reach a much broader audience - millions globally. Clearly the media is a wonderful vehicle for bringing science education to all sorts of people, from children to adults, even those who might not have a strong interest in science."

At UC Riverside, Holt's lab conducts research in the ecology of weedy and invasive plants in order to contribute ecologically sound weed management practices. She is a coauthor of Ecology of Weeds and Invasive Plants: Relationship to Agriculture and Natural Resource Management.

"Although the plants on the moon Pandora in Avatar might seem to be the most fabulous and exotic plants imaginable, there are many far more fantastic plants here on earth, such as in the tropics or deserts," Holt said. "Most people learn very little about plants in school, yet they are essential for our food, shelter, clothing, and the very air we breathe. Most people "see" plants as the fairly static green backdrop to their lives, but plants are actually living, respiring organisms that have very complex and interesting lives. Through my talk, I hope to open people's eyes to plants so that their view of the world is changed, even if just a little bit."

Holt chaired the UCR Department of Botany and Plant Sciences from 2003 to 2010. She is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA). At the WSSA, she serves as an associate editor of the journal, Invasive Plant Science and Management.

Holt received the UCR Distinguished Teaching Award for 2008-09. In 2010, she received the Paul Ecke Jr. Award of Excellence from the San Diego Botanic Garden "for her life's work as a distinguished scientist and educator."

This year's lecture series, titled "Earth 101: What You Need to Know About Life on Our Planet," aims to boost the public's awareness and understanding of science and of how scientists work.

Holt's lecture will be introduced by Aurora Johnson, a UCR alumna and physical science teacher in the Riverside Unified School District.

The talks are being hosted by UCR's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and the Science Circle, a group of university and community members committed to advancing science in Inland Southern California.

More information about the lecture series can be obtained by visiting www.cnas.ucr.edu, calling (951) 827-6555 or emailing Carol Lerner.

Source: University of California - Riverside

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