Behind the Scenes

The Skirball’s Learning for Life program is always looking for new and fun ways to engage adult learners. When UCLA instructor Marc Milstein approached me about teaching a course explaining the science behind TV crime shows, I was hooked. I have always wondered about the accuracy of the crime-solving science on these shows. Entertaining Science: Simply Explained will explore forensics, DNA evidence, cloning, and much more. Hopefully, this interview with Marc Milstein will whet your appetite.

If I take this course, will I be able to identify the killer on TV crime shows?
Great question! We could do an experiment and see if detective skills improve after taking the course. I’ll get back to you on the results of that one. You will definitely have a greater understanding and appreciation of what your favorite TV characters are talking about when they discuss the latest DNA-based and fingerprinting technology. You will also be able to catch when your favorite TV characters are talking about using a technology that doesn’t quite work in the way they are discussing it!

Can we do anything to improve short-term memory?
Absolutely! In just the last few years there has been a lot of extremely exciting research on how our memories are made and formed. We are going to discuss that, as well as the most effective methods researchers have found to increase one’s memory. One tip is to learn new things and challenge your brain in areas you might not feel completely comfortable with. Whether it be learning a new language or learning about science, that type of brain workout seems to be the most beneficial. We are also going to talk about some fascinating studies of people who have lost their ability to make any new memories. These are people who completely live in the present moment, much like the main character in the film Memento. There is one famous case about a man who couldn’t form any new memories, yet he could still remember how to play the piano. These studies have provided quite a bit of insight for scientists researching how we make and store memories.

You’re going to explore the science of sleep. Do you ever have trouble falling asleep and, if so, what’s your go-to remedy?
Yes, from time to time I just can’t seem to get to sleep. And I’m not alone—the latest studies suggest that more than sixty million Americans experience problems falling or staying asleep. But there is good news because sleep research is another area that has made incredible strides in just the last few years. We are going to talk a lot about the latest remedies and dispel some popular myths, too. One interesting recent discovery is that, at night, some tech gadgets like computers, smartphones, tablets, and TVs may emit a type of light that disrupts a hormone in our brains that helps us fall asleep called melatonin. I’ve noticed that when I limit the amount of time I spend with these devices before bed, I do in fact fall asleep easier. This course will explore tips like this and help you understand how the sleep cycle works. More and more research is pointing to just how critical sleep is to our mental and physical health.

How did you get interested in “popular” science?
There are so many mind-boggling discoveries coming from the latest scientific research that can really impact people’s lives in a positive way. I’m really passionate about getting that information to people in an entertaining, easy-to-understand, and accurate manner because I truly believe that having access to scientific information can help people enrich their day-to-day lives.

Will this course be fun? Will I laugh a lot?
Yes, we have had a lot of fun in the lectures I’ve done at UCLA. We definitely keep a relaxed atmosphere and encourage discussion and questions. And not only do we laugh a lot, we learn about some of the amazing benefits of laughing. There are some very interesting studies that show how laughing lowers cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone and having too much of it has been linked to variety of serious ailments, some of which you might not expect. This lecture series is all about laughing and having fun while learning about scientific research that can truly benefit your life.

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About Adele Lander Burke

Adele Lander Burke is Vice President, Learning for Life, at the Skirball. She creates and manages the Skirball’s adult continuing-education initiative, providing opportunities for adults to learn for learning’s sake, one of the greatest pleasures in life. Her portfolio also includes docent training for adult tours, an extension of the free-choice learning model that she enjoys developing. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Adele considers herself an honorary Los Angeles native after living here for thirty-six years. And yes, her favorite performer is Adele!

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