Through their lens: Yimin Yang learns about the role science plays in the arts

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Yimin Yang did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Gerhard Bauer running his film projector. Yimin Yang submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

(Yimin also submitted a blog entry about her HIV/AIDS research project, which you can read here.)

Hello, my name is Yimin Yang, and I have been interning at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures this summer. In addition to spending time in the lab, I also participated in a “second activity”, which was a class on the history of film, taught by our PI, Dr. Bauer. Even though I enjoy watching movies, I never gave much thought to the science behind how they were made, so I felt the course gave me a better understanding of what motion pictures are, how they came to be, and how they worked.

I learned that motion pictures went back as far as the late 19th century—a big shock to me, as I did not think they had come into existence until at least the 1910s. I was also astonished by how early sound and color were developed and used in movies. The techniques they used to create color in early films, such as the three-color Technicolor process, were absolutely fascinating.

Another part of the lectures that stuck out in my mind was about the digital revolution. Though we are surrounded by digital media, rarely do we contemplate or think about how it actually works. Unlike analog media which stores continuous information, digital media consists of small, discrete points. The use of film prints in motion pictures has been rendered almost obsolete by the digital revolution, as most cinemas and movie theaters now use a 2K projector. Digital media, while more easily distributed, compresses analog signals, resulting in a reduction of quality. High definition television at 1080p would not compare to 35mm film at approximately 5K. This was an interesting revelation for me, as I had previously thought filming in HD was an upgrade in quality over filming on film.

Even though I found all the lectures to be interesting, the highlight of the second activity was when we visited Dr. Bauer’s house to watch films in a vintage movie theater. I was absolutely amazed by the image quality in the movies and clips we were shown. I especially loved the short Disney animation clip we saw, which were The Three Little Pigs and Moving Day; it was hard to believe that all of the frames in these eight minute videos were hand drawn, considering how impeccably well-done they were. All of the cartoon characters’ exaggerated movements were smooth and animated perfectly on screen. Though there were visible scratches throughout the video, I felt the quality of animation was comparable to that of modern day cartoons.

In addition to seeing movies, we also got to hear authentic, vintage records from the 1920s and see an actual 35mm film projector. The whole day was just an incredible experience, and it really opened my eyes to a new world of things. By participating in this second activity, I not only learned about the history of the motion pictures but also realized what vital role science plays in making films. It was through experimentation and an understanding of optics and sound that we could enjoy movies and television the way we do now.

Yimin Yang

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