Like most scientists out there, I’ve dreamt about having lab equipment in my kitchen. Wouldn’t it be so efficient to make pancake batter in a 500 mL conical, slap a piece of ParaFilm on top, invert a few times and pour directly into a frying pan? Or better yet, what if I could use a hot plate and a magnetic stirrer every time I made risotto? In her recently released movie, Losing Control, Harvard Biophysics PhD-turned-filmmaker Valerie Weiss brings a story embedded in science to the silver screen, complete with a scene in a home kitchen-turned-lab.
The story revolves around a female Harvard PhD candidate who is on a mission to collect empirical proof that her boyfriend is ‘the one’. Given her background, Weiss infuses the film with scenes that will be familiar to those who work at the bench. Cases in point: the cold room filled with freezer boxes labeled with time tape and filled with eppendorf tubes marked by a Sharpie, the lab meeting where no one understands what the speaker actually works on, social hour in the hallway with food on carts (although beers in dry ice buckets would have added an even more realistic touch) and late nights in the lab that begin with the comment, “Oh no, I forgot to set up my experiment before I left!”
Apparently, this is the first film ever allowed shot on Harvard campus, which grounds the film with a suitably academic backdrop. Although there are other elements of the plot and the characters that are not quite as realistic, if you’re a scientist or a former one, the familiarity of this movie feels good. Weiss says she made this film to draw attention to female scientists, and to realistically convey one on screen as smart, but vulnerable. While I don’t know how many young women will be drawn to science as a result of this movie, many young scientists would do well to look to Weiss herself as a source of inspiration.