Deep Sea Challenger: James Cameron Ventures into the Real Abyss

James Cameron's films may all cover wildly different terrain -- the distant, futuristic planet Pandora in Avatar, an ill-fated Edwardian-era passenger liner in Titanic, and an alien-embattled underwater oil platform in The Abyss -- but each is united by a singular vision. Like all auteurs, Cameron excels at creating absorbing, mysterious worlds that draw us in with their detail, beauty, and scale.

Several scenes of 1989's The Abyss were filmed in the largest underwater set ever made. Cameron's recreation of the sinking of the Titanic was shot in a 17-million gallon tank and interspersed with footage captured by the Akadenik Mistislav Keldysh, the scientific marine research vessel which was used to study the real-life wreckage. "Film-making is war," Cameron has famously said. "A great battle between business and aesthetics."

Today, Cameron announced the maiden voyage of his own submersible, DeepSea Challenger. He plans to descend to the floor of the Pacific Ocean in the submersible, over 10 km down. If he succeeds, he'll become the first person since 1960 to reach the deepest place in the ocean. “The goal of all this is not just to set records and do grandstanding dives,” Cameron told Nature. “We want to push the envelope not only of scientific knowledge but also of engineering.”

Cameron's feat is not just a quirky anecdote: it also perfectly illustrates the storyteller's role of pushing the boundaries of every day, ordinary experience; challenging the known frontiers of culture, space, and modes of communication. There's a lesson there for all of us. 

For more... Watch our interview with David Bellos, the renowned translator and finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, who argued that Cameron's Avatar is "a parable about all forms of human communication": 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Car culture and suburban sprawl create rifts in society, claims study

New research links urban planning and political polarization.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
  • Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
  • People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reverse hair loss by making scalp "smell" sandalwood

It turns out the human scalp has an olfactory receptor that seems to play a crucial role in regulating hair follicle growth and death.

Photo: malehmann via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists treated scalp tissue with a chemical that mimics the odor of sandalwood.
  • This chemical bound to an olfactory receptor in the scalp and stimulated hair growth.
  • The treatment could soon be available to the public.
Keep reading Show less

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller on ​the multiple dimensions of space and human sexuality

Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.

Flickr / 13winds
Think Again Podcasts
  • Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
  • What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
  • Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Keep reading Show less