2020 has been a tough year, but we’ve got you. If you’re in Victoria and embarking on another period of stuck-at-home schooling, or if you’re anywhere in the world and just want an excuse to zone out for a couple of hours but also feel kind of productive at the same time, look no further.
Scroll on for our selection of STEM-themed not-exactly-time-wasters that won’t ask too much of your brain capacity, can be enjoyed with snacks and which we promise will leave you a little smarter than you were before.
1. Hidden Figures (2016)
Subjects covered: History, mathematics
Hidden Figures is about three African American women who worked at NASA during the space race in the 1950s and 60s – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – and how they crossed gender and race lines to become the brains behind the historic NASA mission of sending astronaut John Glenn into orbit.
Optional reading: Read about the maths in Hidden Figures here
2. Interstellar (2014)
Subjects covered: Maths, physics, climate science
This epic sci-fi thriller is as mind-bending as the physics and maths that underpins it. According to space.com the movie’s special effects and stunning visuals were informed by maths provided by Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist and black hole expert Kip Thorne.
As well as the physics of space travel, the blockbuster movie starring Matthew McCounaughy also appears to present a climate-ravaged future, meaning you can add climate science to the list of subjects kind of covered in this almost-three-hour viewing sesh.
Optional reading: Q&A with Kip Thorne about the science behind Interstellar
3. The Martian (2015)
Subjects covered: Astrophysics, engineering, biology
Brian Cox called this movie “the best advert for a career in engineering I’ve ever seen”. The movie – which was created in collaboration with NASA – features Matt Damon, who plays the mission’s botanist, Mark Watney, trying to survive alone on Mars for four years using his STEM skills, including fertilising Martian soil using bio-waste and manufacturing water from leftover rocket fuel.
Optional reading: ANU blog post “Could you survive a trip to Mars?”
4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Subjects covered: History, mathematics
Starring Russel Crowe, this movie is based on the life of American mathematician John Nash who won a Nobel Prize for his landmark work on the mathematics of game theory, and who also struggled with schizophrenia. While the film leans a little bit too far towards the eccentric, inaccesible genius mathematician stereotype for our liking, it does celebrate the beauty of maths in everyday life and might inspire you to read up a little more on Nash’s work and game theory.
Optional reading: 3 reasons you don’t have to be a genius to study maths
5. Ready Player One (2018)
Subjects covered: Engineering, computer science
This movie is set in 2045 where everyday people escape their chaotic world by immersing themselves in an alternative Virtual Reality (VR) world called OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). When the creator of OASIS dies, his avatar announces he’s left an easter egg in the game, and whoever finds it will be the new owner. Cue two hours and 20 minutes of action and adventure with an 80s vibe in this fun tech film that will have you inspired to learn to code in no time.
Optional reading: The 8 stages of learning to code
6. The Day After Tomorrow (2014)
Subjects covered: Climate science
Sure on the face of it this just seems like another edge-of-your-seat disaster film, but this cli-fi (that’s climate fiction) blockbuster actually has real climate science behind it. The film sparked heated debates about its scientific accuracy and its political implications, and even prompted a study that found people who had watched The Day After Tomorrow were “more likely to see global warming as a threat and act as consumers and citizens to mitigate that threat”.
Optional reading: 5 careers to fight global warming
Author: Gemma Chilton
Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.