Campus News

Carey Phillips’ Film to Teach Students and Public About Cells

Story posted December 05, 2002

The Language of Cells, a new 18-minute film by Carey Phillips, Bowdoin professor of biology, will be joining the educational curriculum of the Cold Springs Harbor National Laboratory on Long Island, New York, this winter.

The IMAX-type 3-D animated film, which was previewed at Bowdoin in November, explores how cells communicate with one another through molecular signals. The film offers an intense graphic experience, immersing the audience in the world of living cells, and exploring the wonders and beauty of the processes of life.

The film, sponsored by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, will be shown at Cold Springs’ Dolan DNA Learning Center, the world's first science museum and educational facility promoting DNA literacy. Students of all ages and members of the general public visit the center for hands-on learning experiences in the biological sciences.

Phillips produced and co-directed the film with Kevin Johannen of Portland, Bowdoin Class of 1991. The script is by Phillips, Johannen, and Bronwyn Terrill, multimedia developer at the Dolan DNA Learning Center. Phillips is currently in the process of adding detail to a pair of scenes before it debuts at the Dolan DNA Learning Center.

Thematically the film is reminiscent of the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage in which a medical team is shrunken to microscopic size, then injected into the blood stream of a patient to perform a life-saving procedure.

In The Language of Cells, a child is seen falling and sustaining a cut. The movie then takes the viewer into the wound to watch how the body heals itself, traveling into the capillary system, the scab and fibroblasts cells. The cell will be seen communicating with other cells, and transcribing DNA into RNA to produce protein to facilitate healing.

The film, which features narration and sophisticated visual and sound effects, is geared toward a lay audience, and will be seen by students from the 4th grade up. Packed with colorful graphics and fun sounds, it is guaranteed to draw in the younger crowd. At the same time, the cellular processes are portrayed as accurately as possible, making the film interesting to older and more sophisticated audiences.

Daily screenings will be given at regular intervals in the Learning Center’s “multitorium.” The film, which is completely digital, will be shown on three screens with Surround Sound, with one computer running all three data projectors.

Eventually, segments of the film will be used in an online cancer tutorial on the Cold Springs Harbor Web site.

Watch the Bowdoin Sun for announcements of future showings of The Language of Cells on campus. Phillips will also use the film as a teaching tool next semester when he and Mark Wethli, A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art, teach the new class “Scientific Illustration in 3-D: Using Digital Animation to Illustrate Scientific Ideas” (Biology 202/Visual Arts 255).

The Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, located about 35 miles from Manhattan, is a century-old research and educational institution. In addition to supporting extensive educational programs, its research programs focus on cancer, neurobiology, plant genetics, genomics and bioinformatics. Visit their Web site at

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