Pentagon Turns to Hollywood for National Security

ByABC News
January 17, 2007, 7:10 PM

Jan. 18, 2007— -- Josh Hurd has had a passion for science since high school, but he plans to go to law school after graduating from Dartmouth College.

"In dealing with environmental issues, it's not the scientists who are influencing policy," he said, "rather, it's the politicians. Scientists don't have that much impact on the actual policy being implemented. Law is where I feel I can make the most difference."

That kind of attitude is worrisome to the nation's top researchers -- and the Defense Department as well.

As a growing number of top college graduates pursue careers in investment banking, consulting and law, they say the nation is suffering from a dangerous shortage of scientists and engineers.

"There are many reasons for this trend, the possibility of a lucrative job right after graduation," said Patricia Rose, director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania. "These jobs are very attractive and pay well."

How do the scientists fight back? They're going Hollywood.

Catalyst Workshop

Martin Gundersen, a professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California, created the Catalyst Workshop, a program that teaches scientists and engineers the basics of movie screenwriting.

He got funding from the U.S. Army Research Office and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. And he teamed up with the American Film Institute to run the workshop.

"I wanted to provide opportunities for scientists and engineers to tell better stories, affect the portrayal of science," said Gundersen. "It's the best thing in the world, it gives us puzzles and problems, such a challenging and wonderful area. [Scientists] just need help conveying that."

"A filmmaker might not necessarily be interested in some seemingly complicated research," said Joe Petricca, Executive Vice Dean at the American Film Institute. "We're training storytellers."

Valerie Weiss joined the Catalyst Workshop and liked it. She holds a doctorate in biophysics but now devotes herself entirely to her career in film.