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Your guide to the Oscars--Or at least the science of the Oscars

The 81st Annual Academy Awards are tonight, and science would be in the running for best supporting theme—if there was an Oscar for that kind of thing.

As we pointed out in a post a month ago, there's a lot of science in the Oscar contenders this year. (Here's our in-depth report on science at the movies.) First there's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, up for 13 awards, whose premise is that humans can reverse the aging process. It's certainly an arresting idea, arresting the progress of aging, but a few experts we spoke to in December about the film called it, well, not entirely realistic.

Then there's The Dark Knight, which garnered eight Oscar nominations, including one for best actor in a supporting role for the late Heath Ledger. In our most viewed story of last year, Paul Zehr, an associate professor of kinesiology and neuroscience and author of Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero, explained why Batman could exist—but not for long.

Other nominees with a heavy dose of science: Iron Man (for visual effects and sound editing), Wall-E (six nominations, including for best animated feature film and original screenplay, and Encounters at the End of the World (best documentary feature). For background on these films while you watch the Oscars, check out a real-life robotic suit, more on other kinds of robots, and what it's like to do research in Antarctica.

There are also, of course, awards for the science of the movies, the Academy's Sci-Tech Awards. Those go to achievements such as "efforts toward identifying and solving the problem of High-Speed Emulsion Stress Syndrome in motion picture film stock" (Jonathan Erland) and "innovative algorithms and refined adaptations of published methods to achive large-scale water effects" (Doug Roble, Nafees Bin Zafar, and Ryo Sakaguchi). That ceremony was separately from tonight's, on February 9. (Imagine waiting for presenting actors to make their ways through lines like that!)

There isn't really much science in Oscar favorite Slum Dog Millionaire, although the movie certainly shines a spotlight on sanitation, a subject we tackled last year, in Mumbai's poorest—and most crowded—areas.

Tune in tonight at 8 P.M. Eastern time to find out how science fares. Just watch how you make the popcorn.

Image courtesy of nancycallahan via Flickr

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