Weather Updates

NU scientist helped make ‘TRON’ seem plausible

Malcolm MacIver

Malcolm MacIver

storyidforme: 5369470
tmspicid: 1324035
fileheaderid: 925643

Updated: April 19, 2011 5:09AM

Having previously made fish sing, Malcolm MacIver, a Northwestern University professor, didn’t hesitate when he was offered an even bigger challenge:

Helping Hollywood make it seem plausible that humans could live inside a video game — at least for the length of the new movie “Tron: Legacy,” which opens today.

MacIver was one of five scientists brought in through the National Academy of Sciences to work as consultants on the movie.

His job? “To enable the storytellers to include details of science in their story and get it right,” said MacIver, an assistant professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering. “And, if they get it wrong, get it wrong with malice aforethought.”

MacIver spent two days in Hollywood reading the script and brainstorming with the director, producers, writers and the other scientists — but he says he’s sworn to secrecy on the details of the discussions.

He hasn’t seen “Tron” yet.

“I’m very interested to see how they carried it forward,” said MacIver, who’s also consulted for the SyFy TV network show “Caprica.”

MacIver previously teamed with Northwestern faculty composer Jay Alan Yim and visual artist Marlena Novak to create “Scales,” an interactive exhibit that combines science and art for a festival in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. “Scales” involves 12 fish from the Amazon River in tanks. The fish are constantly emitting radar signals to find food and get around. Sensors set up in the tanks pick up the signals, which are translated into sounds and played through speakers. Exhibit visitors can conduct the ensemble of fish by activating the sensors and composing the sounds on a sound board.

“We wanted to combine science, art and sound in an exciting way,” he said.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.