Biology Professors Featured on Discovery Channel Show "Alien Planet," Airing May 14

Biology Professors Featured on Discovery Channel Show "Alien Planet," Airing May 14
Biology professor Curtis Clark will provide scientific commentary to explain how life could exist in other worlds on “Alien Planet.”
Biology professor David Moriarty will be featured on the new Discovery Channel show “Alien Planet.”

What happens when we find life outside our own planet? Two Cal Poly Pomona Biology professors will help answer that question on the new Discovery Channel show “Alien Planet,” premiering on Saturday, May 14, at 8 p.m. (ET/PT).

In the show, viewers will embark on a mission into the future to Darwin IV, a planet 6.5 light years from Earth with two suns and 60 percent gravity. Through computer generated imagery, animation and special effects, the planet reveals unexpected and startling life forms. Three probes each with the artificial intelligence of a 4-year-old child explore the planet, uncovering life forms, processing data and sending it back to scientists on Earth.

“Alien Planet” also provides in-depth scientific commentary to explain how life could exist in other worlds. The special features on-camera interviews with two of the university's Biology professors, Curtis Clark and David Moriarty. Clark specializes in botany and is primarily interested in the diversity, evolution and habitat of plants. Moriarty specializes in structural aspects of community ecology and ornithology.

“We haven't seen the final cut, and I am interested to see how it turns out,” says Clark. “The basic idea of another instance of life has got to be interesting to any biologist. We can be almost sure that when we find it, the critters of Darwin IV will seem normal by comparison, because they were all conceived in the imagination of humans. In the early days of consulting for the show, we went back and forth about the plausibility of some of the creatures that the artist drew, and in some ways the show could be subtitled 'The shifting boundary between fantasy and science.'”

The professors were brought onto the show through the involvement of Joan Horvath, CEO of Takeoff Technologies, which is based at Cal Poly Pomona's NASA Commercialization Center. Among Takeoff Technologies' functions is finding science consultants for entertainment companies. In addition to finding experts for the show, Horvath was interviewed for “Alien Planet” due to her role as executive director for the Global Space League, a nonprofit group that encourages science experimentation and interest among kindergarteners to college students.

“It was a huge project, and we played a role in a large part of the show,” says Horvath. “It's important for the general public to get accurate science.”

Other experts include Michio Kaku (string theorist, City University of New York), Jack Horner (paleontologist, Montana State University), Stephen W. Hawking (physicist, author, A BriefHistory of Time), and George Lucas (creator of “Star Wars”).

While professors Clark and Moriarty are used to educational lectures, and discussing complex topics with easy to understand terms, the experience of filming was television was a new one.

“Although I talk to people every day in my classes, talking in front of the camera and with the green screen was quite unique,” says Moriarty. “We had to pretend we were looking at animals that weren't really there. They'd tell us to look at an object on the ceiling (like a vent), and talk to that. The crew was very nice and easy to work with.”

These experts and many more mission scientists, biologists, physicists and astrobiologists were consulted on topics as varied as spaceships, planetary atmosphere and life forms to provide the scientific underpinnings of the specials.

Both Clark and Moriarty will be watching “Alien Planet” from their homes on Saturday, May 14, at 8 p.m. (PT) on the Discovery Channel.