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Animated life: Pangea, Wegener and the continental drift

8 minutes

The trial

16 minutes

Poetry of perception: ‘We Grow Accustomed to the Dark’

2 minutes

Tusalava

9 minutes

How ISPs violate the laws of mathematics

6 minutes

Aeon for Friends

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How an Earth science outsider finally put the Pangea puzzle together

For centuries, scientists – and pretty much anyone who had ever laid eyes on a world map – noticed that the continents seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But it wasn’t until the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener became convinced that the continents once formed a mega-continent and had been drifting away ever since, that anyone truly began to understand why. While on a field expedition in Greenland in 1906-08, Wegener noticed how ice caps looked like puzzle pieces after they had fractured and drifted apart. He concluded that something similar must have happened with the continents and began publicising his ‘continental drift’ hypothesis in 1912. But even though it offered a compelling explanation for some of geology’s most fundamental unanswered questions, continental drift received an icy reception from the geology community, who viewed Wegener as a naive outsider. It wasn’t until 50 years later – well after his death during yet another Greenland expedition – that his theory, confirmed and slightly altered by the discovery of plate tectonics, became widely accepted. 

Part of Sweet Fern ProductionsAnimated Life series, this short animation recounts Wegener’s extraordinary life story, and makes a case for the importance of outsiders and interdisciplinarity in science. 

To learn more about continental drift and plate tectonics – and endemic sexism in the scientific community –  watch Marie Tharp: Uncovering the Secrets of the Ocean Floor.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

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When protecting the US Constitution means defending accused terrorists

After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States’ departments of Defense and of Justice launched a series of unprecedented initiatives aimed at fighting terrorism, including US Constitution-bending rendition, torture and detainment programmes. Eighteen years later, many of the methods used in the wake of the attacks remain legally ambiguous and largely hidden from public view. And no place has become more emblematic of extralegal post-9/11 practices than Guantánamo Bay: a US naval base on the eastern edge of Cuba, which since 2002 has served as a detention camp for accused terrorist combatants, who, in many cases, have been held for years without trial.

This short documentary follows three US Department of Defense lawyers – Alka Pradhan, James Connell and Sterling Thomas – working on a Guantánamo Bay case fraught with unique challenges and sensitivities. The trio serves as the defence team for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of five men currently facing the death penalty for 9/11-related crimes. To do their job, the lawyers must earn and keep al-Baluchi’s trust, present their defence before the family members of 9/11 victims, and even fend off interference from the very government entity for which they work – and which they accuse of repeatedly violating attorney-client privilege. It might seem an unenviable position, but it’s one they’ve taken on willingly, viewing their work as essential to protecting the US Constitution in a place where the rule of law has been so frequently and brazenly disregarded.

Director: Johanna Hamilton

Website: Field of Vision

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‘Then – fit our Vision to the Dark’: exploring sight with Emily Dickinson

Written by Emily Dickinson during the depths of the US Civil War, the untitled poem known as ‘We Grow Accustomed to the Dark’ conjures hope and perseverance amid waves of chaos and uncertainty. In this animation, the UK filmmaker and illustrator Hannah Jacobs visualises the poem in fleeting scenes that oscillate between vibrant colour and darkness, through which human figures careen. Beginning with an epigraph drawing a parallel between artistic and scientific discovery, the video was created for an online neuroscience course at Harvard University as part of a series that explores the human sensory experience through poetry and animation.

Animator: Hannah Jacobs

Producer: Nadja Oertelt

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Life emerges, evolves and fights for supremacy in this 1929 avant-garde classic

The New Zealand-born artist Leonard Charles Huia Lye (1901-80), better known as Len Lye, is renowned for his work in kinetic sculpture and experimental film, and is widely considered one of the most innovative modernists of the 20th century. Lye’s first film, Tusalava (1929), produced over two years following a move to London, was born of the city’s emerging experimental film scene and Lye’s abiding interest in Maori, Aboriginal and Samoan art. Composed of some 7,000 hand-drawn images, the abstract animation synthesises modern and ancient art as it depicts simple life forms emerging, evolving and coming into conflict. As with the influence of African art on Pablo Picasso, Lye’s use of so-called ‘primitivism’ has been both praised for introducing non-Western perspectives to Western art, and criticised for cultural appropriation. The film was originally paired with a now-lost piano score from the UK-born composer Jack Ellitt. This version features the UK composer Eugene Goossens’s composition Rhythmic Dance (1928), which Lye later suggested as an alternative accompaniment.

Director: Len Lye

Score: Eugene Goossens

Websites: The Len Lye Foundation, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

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If simple logic isn’t working with your internet company, try Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory

This tongue-in-cheek animation from the US YouTuber Henry Reich – the mind behind MinutePhysics – is a creative exercise in how not to lose your cool when faced with the abyss of illogic. Recalling the mundane, mindnumbing tribulations of trying to get a straight answer on billing from his internet service provider (ISP), Reich concludes that the company isn’t just guilty of subpar customer service – their policies also break nearly every fundamental law of modern mathematics. Reich’s clever excoriation of telecommunication companies was created for The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAHFest), an annual ‘celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect scientific theories’.

Video by MinutePhysics

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How an Earth science outsider finally put the Pangea puzzle together

For centuries, scientists – and pretty much anyone who had ever laid eyes on a world map – noticed that the continents seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But it wasn’t until the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener became convinced that the continents once formed a mega-continent and had been drifting away ever since, that anyone truly began to understand why. While on a field expedition in Greenland in 1906-08, Wegener noticed how ice caps looked like puzzle pieces after they had fractured and drifted apart. He concluded that something similar must have happened with the continents and began publicising his ‘continental drift’ hypothesis in 1912. But even though it offered a compelling explanation for some of geology’s most fundamental unanswered questions, continental drift received an icy reception from the geology community, who viewed Wegener as a naive outsider. It wasn’t until 50 years later – well after his death during yet another Greenland expedition – that his theory, confirmed and slightly altered by the discovery of plate tectonics, became widely accepted. 

Part of Sweet Fern ProductionsAnimated Life series, this short animation recounts Wegener’s extraordinary life story, and makes a case for the importance of outsiders and interdisciplinarity in science. 

To learn more about continental drift and plate tectonics – and endemic sexism in the scientific community –  watch Marie Tharp: Uncovering the Secrets of the Ocean Floor.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

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Essay/
Computing and artificial intelligence
Moral technology

Self-driving cars don’t drink and medical AIs are never overtired. Given our obvious flaws, what can humans still do best?

Paula Boddington

Essay/
Evolution
The Neanderthal renaissance

Handprints on a cave wall, crumbs from a meal: the new science of Neanderthals radically recasts the meaning of humanity

Rebecca Wragg Sykes