Editor’s note: WRAL Local Tech Wire has added another feature with the "Innovation Exchange." Noah Garrett, former director of communications for the North Carolina Technology Association, is a creative spirit, from writing music to news stories, who owns and operates NGC Communications. The focus of the Innovation Exchange is just that – creating a Web community through which people can exchange ideas and foster creativity.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently announced the creation of an initiative designed to connect entertainment industry professionals with top scientists and engineers to help the creators of television shows, films, video games, and other productions incorporate science into their work.

A good friend at Northwestern University sent me an e-mail about this and he thought it was a cool idea. I agree, thus the creation of this post, and it certainly relates to a previous column earlier this year about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and America’s Real American Idols.

How many times have you watched a movie and wondered if what you were seeing was possible? Or, many popular TV crime dramas like CSI often use cutting-edge technology to solve crimes during each episode. But, is that technology real or just a Hollywood technique to create a dynamic storyline?

The depiction of science often poses a challenge to the entertainment community.

Though many of the world’s biggest problems require scientific solutions, finding a way to translate scientific findings to reach a wide audience has required a sounding board that has often been missing.

Until now.

We caught up with Jennifer Ouellette, director of The Science & Entertainment Exchange, to explain a little more about it.

What prompted such an initiative?

The Exchange represents the Academy’s first formal effort to reach out to the entertainment community and provide the creative minds of Hollywood with a direct connection to the creative minds of science. There have been several attempts to do something similar in the past by scientific organizations. The most successful is Hollywood Health and Science, established by Marty Kaplan, head of USC’s Norman Lear Center here in LA. The Exchange seeks to follow and build on that model. The idea is not to simply fact-check and criticize the "bad science" in Hollywood after the fact, but to get scientists involved earlier in the development process, so they can help inform and shape the scripts.

That sounds great, but in reality, how do you do that?

We need to foster those initial conversations/interactions between scientists and entertainment professionals in the hope that successful collaborations will lead to stronger relationships in the future. That’s why the NAS partnered with Janet and Jerry Zucker, a husband/wife producer/director team (AIrplane! movies, Ghost) and other leaders in the entertainment industry, along with key leaders in science. Everyone involved (including me) firmly believes that good science can actually spur creativity in character and story lines, and provide intriguing plot twists. Real science is so fascinating and sometimes stranger and fiction. We want to help Hollywood keep up with some of the more exciting developments in various fields

With everything else going on in the world, why do this now?

I think the timing is finally just right. There are so many science-themed shows on TV such as CSI, Bones, Numb3rs, House, The Big Bang Theory, Fringe, The Eleventh Hour, Eureka, etc. They, and filmmakers, are looking for verisimilitude in these shows and that means getting the science right… as much as good storytelling allows.

But, isn’t Hollywood really just about entertaining people?

We’re not trying to turn every TV show into a documentary or propaganda piece for science; we just want to encourage more believable fictionalizations on-screen, thereby cutting down on the more egregious howlers.

You mentioned the Zuckers – who else is involved?

There are some very big names involved, but participation is open to everyone. We’ll be building a database of contacts over the next year or two to assist in quickly locating the needed expertise. Scientists participate on a volunteer basis; we may issue an invitation, but they’re free to decline. We want to draw on all levels to become involved, from the most prominent NAS members, to tenured professors, associates, staff researchers, scientists turned entrepreneurs, even grad students and post-docs.

Is it time consuming?

The amount of time involved is usually not onerous: a 30-minute phone call, a lunch meeting, with perhaps some minor follow-up queries after that. Even more formal tech consultant agreements – rare so far, but we hope to change that – generally don’t require more than a few hours a week; ditto for industry professionals. We want to reach out to producers, directors, art directors, writers, production/set designers, costume designers – anyone who plays a role in how science is portrayed in Hollywood. Which means, pretty much everyone. We’re already fielding queries from both sides of the aisle, so to speak; the response so far has been terrific.

What are the plans for outreach: conference, summit, TV show, etc.?

Our bread-and-butter activity is filling requests from those in the entertainment industry in need of scientific expertise for their projects. This can be anything from a 20-minute telephone conversation, reading over a draft script, meeting for lunch to discuss ideas informally, all the way to becoming officially "attached" to a project as a technical consultant. Our job is to make the connections and then get out of the way so creative collaboration can happen. We do not negotiate contracts or financial compensation for any services rendered; that’s between the two parties involved. However, our activities will not be limited to that. It’s all about fostering those key conversations through which innovative ideas develop. So we plan to host smaller in-home salons; a workshop for scientists interested in how to be an effective tech consultant/ambassador for science in Hollywood; and other special activities. We’ll be partnering with universities, non-profit organizations, national labs, and the entertainment industry to put these kinds of things together. In short, we want to find the synergies and enhance those, so that even more creative collaborations can develop.

From the East Coast to the West Coast, the Innovation Exchange applauds the efforts of The Science and Entertainment Exchange. We here are strong advocates for STEM education and PR outreach to enlighten a wider audience on the important of science and technology in our world.

If Hollywood continues to boost their efforts to reach the masses on the importance of science and technology in today’s world, the knowledge economy movement will continue to build and cater to a much broader audience.

Oh, the possibilities…