blastGuest Blog

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  1. Paul Devlin says:

    We’re very excited about the global broadcast of BLAST! on BBC World News this weekend. If you saw the movie (or my interview on Weekend World), let us know where in the world you saw it.


  2. Philip says:

    Why not produce a Blue-ray version for the general public, similar to the Disc 1 (with all extras)of the (more expensive) Educationalpackage. It would be a best-seller!

    • Hi Philip!

      The cost of producing a Blu-Ray disc can be very expensive, especially for independent filmmakers like ourselves. We’re certainly interested in making BLAST! available in Blu-Ray, but we want to evaluate the expense and the demand. So, we’ve created a way for anyone interested in purchasing a Blu-Ray disc to let us know. Just sign up here and be sure to check “I am interested in buying BLAST! on Blu-Ray.” If there is enough demand, we’ll be happy to provide!

  3. admin says:


    Our screening at FermiLab in Chicago was a huge success with over 600 people in the audience! The crowd seemed to really enjoy the lively Q&A after the screening. Thanks so much to everyone who came out.

  4. Ivana Susic says:


    I recently attended a screening of BLAST! at Columbia College in Chicago and enjoyed the movie immensely. Paul was a wonderful host.

    I am working on a degree in science journalism and for one of my science reporting classes we are working on an article about the BLAST projects. I was wondering if Mark or Barth would be available for a 15 minute phone interview this week. I have a couple of straightforward questions about the BLAST project and movie.



    • Paul Devlin says:


      Why don’t you send an email to with a request, some suggested times and you’re contact information and we’ll pass it along.

      Also, as an alternative, perhaps also send some questions that can be answered by email rather than phone.

      Glad you enjoyed the movie and thanks for getting in touch!

  5. Tim Jedlicka says:

    My daughter (11yr. old) and I enjoyed the screening at Fermi Lab. The film really captured the humanity of the scientists. I’m curious about the amount of data you collected and why you couldn’t stream it down to a ground station. Did you have a weight limit for the telescope, or what was the most limiting factor of using the balloon? What determines the max altitude of the balloon? And finally – although it probably shouldn’t have been a part of the movie, I would like to know more about what kind of data you obtained and how you go about analyzing it. Is it basically a coordinate and temperature? I’d really like to see how you take a small piece of raw data and “make sense” of it.

    • Mark Devlin says:

      Here are some answers to your questions:

      - Our data rate is 1 mega bit per second. When we can see the telescope we can transmit this down. After it goes over the horizon we only get about 7 kilo bits per second over our omni-directional TDRSS antenna. This will be increased by a factor of ten this year with a high gain TDRSS antenna…but still not enough.

      - Peak altitude, balloon volume and payload mass are closely related. Our mass is about 2000 kg plus the NASA equipment. We could fly another 1000 kg, but the balloon would not get nearly as high (we fly at 120,000 ft). You could fly a bigger balloon. Ours was 28 million cubic feet. You can get a 40 million cubic feet balloon, but it does not buy you nearly as much as you think. The maximum altitude is just determined by the weight, balloon volume, and air pressure vs altitude.

      - Your last question is much more complicated and goes beyond what I can respond here. You can go to the website and look at some the data there ( As for the raw time streams…there is 120 GBytes of it…too much too post!

  6. admin says:


    We had a great time screening BLAST! at the Explorer’s Club here in NYC earlier this month. Both Mark and Paul attended and enjoyed a fun time and lively conversation. Big thanks to our friends at The Explorer’s Club for helping make it happen!

  7. Paul Devlin says:

    BLAST! premieres on U.S. Television tonight! Please spread the word, especially to people you know in Southern California:

    KVCR – San Bernardino, CA
    Thursday, February 4th 10:00PM

  8. Philip says:

    BLAST! was an exciting project proving that serieus astronomy/cosmology can be done with less money. Hope to see a similar balloon-borne telescope fly again!

  9. David Ardila says:

    I just saw the movie at the AAS in DC. I greatly enjoyed it. It reminds me of the maxim that if you are not failing often you are not trying hard enough. It is a pity that it had to compete with the banquet at the Smithsonian. Otherwise you would have gotten standing room only!

  10. Wendy says:

    Is it possible to purchase a “non educational” version of Blast for viewing in my home?

    • Paul Devlin says:

      Wendy, the Home DVD of BLAST! has not been released yet.

      While we have released the Educational DVD independently, an effective, widespread release to retail markets of the Home DVD may require partnering with a distributor.

      We are in discussions with distributors about this release, but it may take more time than we anticipated. Please sign up for our mailing list on the BLAST! Home Page so you can receive updates.

      In the meantime we encourage you and others to help us develop local screening opportunities, so that as many people as possible can enjoy BLAST! and it’s exciting science adventure story!

  11. admin says:

    Screening at OSU

    BLAST! had a fantastic screening at OSU last week. Paul and Mark were both in attendance and did a great Q&A and also got to spend some time with students and faculty both before and after the screening. We had a great audience, and they seemed to really enjoy the film. Thanks OSU!

  12. Nicole Potter says:

    Obama says “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”
    Check out this NY Times article –

  13. James says:

    I saw the movie at HIFF last night and was fortunate enough to talk to Paul about the filmmaking aspects of the movie….well actually I just listened as my girlfriend the filmmaker asked questions that i didn’t totally understand…
    Anyway, i have a question of my own:

    Paul briefly explained that everything is essentially “inside” the big bang, so any direction that you look, you’re looking “into the past” at the big bang. If it’s been concluded that the big bang occured 13.7 billion years ago, and we can look 13.7 billion light years in any direction and see remnants of the big bang, does that mean that we are in the center of the big bang/our solar system is the oldest?

    Is there a possibility that if we look to our east, we’d need to look 15.7 billion LY to see the big bang and only 11.7 billion LY to the west? Or is the universe essentially infinitely expanding from every point?

    I loved the movie, and i really enjoyed seeing an entertaining and interesting science movie that can pique an interest in such a general audience. Thanks for bringing us your film!


    • Mark Devlin says:

      As you might guess, the answer is a bit wierd. The 13.7 billion year number tells us how far you can *see*. You can only see how far light has had time to travel since the big bang. So, when the universe was only a million years old, you could only see a million light years…That doesn’t mean the universe was only a million light years in radius!.. It also doesn’t mean that we are at any special “center” it just appears that way.

  14. I just got back from an early evening showing of Blast at the Hawaii International Film Festival here in Honolulu.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I really enjoyed the film. I wish I could have stayed for the Q&A but I’m afraid I had another engagement. Were I there I would have asked Paul what special challenges are there in doing a film involving your family that you haven’t found in your other work?

    Again, mahalo for bringing the film to our fest! I wish I could have given it a 6 out of 5 in the voting at the end; you’ll have to settle for the 5. :-)

    Aloha! Bob

    • Paul Devlin says:

      Hi Robert, thanks so much for attending the screening. I had a great time in Hawaii.

      Doing a film that involved my family had advantages and disadvantages. A big plus is the access. Because my brother is the Principal Investigator on BLAST and invited me to do the movie, I had extraordinary access to the experiment. As a result I was in a unique position to tell this story, and part of my intent was to reveal the risky, haphazard, real life of the scientific process that we had not seen before.

      On the other hand, my access as a family member could create tension as well. Mark is my younger brother, but on the experiment he’s the boss, so I had to get used to deferring to his authority. There were times when my access could be interfering and I had to be careful about overstepping boundaries as the boss’s brother.

      That included bringing the camera along during family events. I believe part of what makes BLAST! unique is how the movie reveals the private life of a scientist, and how a scientist’s work can cause hardships for his or her family. This is something that’s rarely, if ever been depicted. My access to my own family allowed me to convey that.

      However, after awhile Mark’s wife asked me a few times to leave the camera at home rather than bring it on family visits. So again I had to be careful not to let my natural access go too far.

  15. Jonathan Hart says:

    Hey! I was at the Q & A at the Coca-cola Space Science Center and asked that Big Rip Question. Is it true that the Andromeda Galaxy is goind to crash into the Milky Way Galaxy? If you could let me know that would be great!

    • Mark Devlin says:

      Why…are you worried? Andromeda is certainly moving generally towards the Milky Way. But, while we can measure its motion along our line of site, it is *very* difficult to get the motion perpendicular to our line of site. Chances are that it will miss…at least on the first pass.

      BTW…we do think that there is a galaxy coliding with our galaxy on the other side.

  16. Tash says:

    In the movie Blast, what is the advantage of the scientist location? Also what are the technical aspects of the telescope?

    • Mark Devlin says:

      I assume you mean, “Why do they fly from Antarctica?”

      There are a few reasons:

    • Mark Devlin says:

      - The Sun is up all the time – keeps out batteries charged and the balloon does not heat/cool during the day/night, so we stay at the same altitude.
      - We have less of a chance of landing in water after a long flight.

    • Paul Devlin says:

      Also, I believe Mark forgot to mention that the winds go in a consistent circular direction during the Antarctic summer, so it’s easier to predict where the telescope will land.

  17. Jim Cusick says:

    Great movie! Thanks.

    I asked a question Friday night and I think I found the answer here on the graduate student blog linked to by your site:

    The question was “What operating system did the computer on the telescope run?” and the answer seems to be: Mandrake Linux. They had enough challenges without trying to use Windows on the mission!


    • Barth Netterfield says:

      Actually, by the time of the movie we had moved to Slackware Linux, which seemed a little easier to pare down to the sort of minimal (no GUI) installation appropriate for the flight computers.

      Our ground station computers were a mixture of Slackware Linux and Fedora Linux.

    • Mark Devlin says:

      The flight computers both used Linux. The star camera computers used Windows because we could not afford the time to write drivers for the firewire cameras.

  18. Paul Devlin says:

    The opening in Chicago was great fun! Lot’s of my friends from my days at the University of Michigan showed up, so it turned into a bit of a reunion as well.

    A very dynamic Q&A, and some sparks flew between some scientists in the audience when the issue of the religion discussion in BLAST! came up.

    As a filmmaker, of course my feeling is that controversy and the discussion it inspires is a good thing!

    Here are the great reviews BLAST! received in Chicago:

    “Fast, fun, and beautiful to look at, Blast! (2008) communicates the joys and heartbreaks of scientific creativity.” – Chicago Reader

    “The intelligence on screen thrills rather than bewilders, a tribute to both Devlin brothers.” – New City

    “Enjoy this look at a group of obsessive, brilliant people pursuing their passion. It’s like an extreme-sports doc for science nerds.” – Time Out Chicago

    • Keith Johnson says:

      You left out the review from the Chicago Public Schools students!

      I’ve been back and Lincoln a couple of times since the showing, and students have come up and thanked us for showing the movie and said how much they enjoyed it.

  19. Bob says:

    During the q & a session after the 7pm screening in Chicago Friday night Paul stated that it was not uncommon to find religious scientists. I corrected him and said yes it was, something like 95% or 98% percent of scientists are atheists. Paul asked for a footnote, so here it is:

    That page quotes a study that found 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists. That’s a good statistical sample. I think that is the study I was referring to.

    I have one un-answered for Paul’s brother; what brand of hard drives were in that PV! I need those in my laptop when riding my bicycle on Chicago and Northwest Indiana roads!

    I really liked the film a lot, despite the unfortunate pro-religious propaganda.

    • Mark Devlin says:

      We flew Western Digital hard drives. I guess I can’t complain!

    • Barth Netterfield says:

      Hi Bob,

      I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the religious parts. I think Paul was trying to communicate my experiences in an honest way. In fact, it would be dishonest to talk about my experiences and neglect to discuss my faith.

      As to statistics about the commonality of religious scientists: the Wikipedia article you link to states that 60.7% of natural scientists polled in 1996 express “disbelief or doubt in the existence of God” (defined as a personal God which interacts directly with human beings) – or, restated, 39.3% do believe in a personal God. This is consistent with my experiences: nine of the 25 or so students I have worked with have some level of religious faith from a variety of religious backgrounds (though many may not feel comfortable talking about it given the religious climate in the U.S.). So Paul’s assertion that it is not unusual to find religious scientists is confirmed both by polls, and by experience.

      But, as you say, most senior scientists are atheists: in my view, this is a natural product of a generation of extremists (both Atheist and Fundamentalist Christian) arguing that science and religion are incompatible. Even today, there is a lot of rhetoric expelled on the topic of “Christianity vs Evolution”, as if these two ideas were somehow at odds.

      But I think that the climate is changing. I have found with current and recent students who have ‘grown up’ with ‘cosmological fine tuning’ and Anthropic arguments for the nature of the Universe, the default belief seems to be ‘agnosticism’ rather than Atheism.

      I think this is a healthy change – Science is not the domain of only one religious tradition (eg, Atheism). Any somewhat compelling objections to the existence of a good God that I have heard have nothing to do with science, but rather involve issues like the nature of suffering. Not surprisingly, the nature of suffering is the topic of the oldest book in the Bible, so the discussion is nothing new, and is unlikely to be resolved by the discovery of the nature of dark matter, or the chemical origin of life.

      But, for many – perhaps even most – it is resolved by our interpretation of personal experiences. Thus, in the movie, the recovery of the pressure vessel had a profound impact on me – in giving me increased confidence in his goodness and provision – but it did not have the same impact on Mark. So in the context of scientific exploration, like all other parts of life, matters of faith remain matters of faith. I think this is what Paul was communicating, and I think he did it very well.

      As to your question about the hard drives: at least one was a Western Digital WD2500JB. I’m not sure about the other — it might have been a Maxtor. Pretty much all of these drives have similar shock resistance specs, and both had to be repaired by a hard drive recovery company after the vibration from being dragged. We are moving to solid state drives for our next flight (yes, BLAST has been rebuilt), which ought to be more robust (famous last words….)

      Barth Netterfield

  20. Paul Devlin says:

    In Chicago for the opening at Facets Cinematheque. I’m staying with a friend of mine from my days at the University of Michigan, Keith Johnson.

    Keith set up screenings of BLAST! at his kids’ schools today. First we went to Walter’s, Taft High School and then to Emma’s, Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. What great screenings! There were a few hundred students at each. Wish we could have that big an audience at every screening!

    I have to admit that I was worried that the kids would lose interest or get restless, but they were very attentive and asked great questions at the end. They really got engaged in the story and the telescope. That was very gratifying for me and Keith. And Walter and Emma got big points at school for being part of it!

    It gave me a lot of confidence that BLAST! has a strong appeal for school audiences, and especially for teachers who want to get their students excited about science.

  21. Viktor Koves says:

    What is the magnification of the telescope thet you used, and how did you adjust that magnification? How did you make sure that the telescope and its motors weren’t damaged by the Antarctic climate?

    -Viktor Koves

    • Mark Devlin says:

      When working with telescopes like these, we usually don’t talk about magnification. The best figure of merit is the *resolution* of the telescope. In the submillimeter, the resolution is the physical limit of the measurement and it roughly equal to the wavelength of the light divided by the diameter of the telescope. For BLAST, that is 30 arcseconds. Compared to an optical telescope, this is horrible. BUT, we did pretty well. However, it is the single most limiting factor in our measurements.

      Actually, the temperature of the motors when we are flying the balloon is rougly room temperature. BUT, just in case, we grease them with special low-temperature grease. A potential problem is the motors sparking because they operate in a near-vacuum. We test them in a chamber on the ground for this.

  22. Matthew says:

    Just got back from New York for the taping of last night’s Colbert Report. 4 of us from the lab were given tickets. We arrived at the studio, were taken back stage, hung out with Mark in the green room, enjoyed food and drink, chatted with some of the interns, and then enjoyed the show. It was awesome!

  23. Astrophysicist Mark Devlin (director Paul Devlin’s brother), will be featured on the Colbert Report, Thursday, August 13th, 11:30pm.

    The link is on the BLAST! home page -

    and here -

    Hope you can tune in!

    Claire Missanelli
    Producer. BLAST!

  24. Saw your documentary on Dutch TV yesterday. Great project, great results. Very inspirational to see a group of people achieve their goal with so much perseverance and above all; fun!

  25. I just finished watching Blast, the Movie! VPRO television broadcasted it in the Netherlands. Just wanted to tell you all how I enjoyed seeing what you have been capable of doing! Sometimes people have doubts about our future, but with people like you, not only intelligent but also adventurous and daring, the world will be all right. I am sure of that!

  26. Nick Thomas says:

    BLAST, along with a lot of great footage from BLAST! The Movie, was a feature last night on Miami’s WPLG Local 10 News. The video can be found at-

    The story contained information about the science BLAST gathered from its 2006 flight in Antarctica and gives news about the upcoming flight in 2010.

  27. B says:

    Please schedule a showing in Rochester, NY! I know a large group of families who would love to see it, plus the astronomy and science communities at RIT, Univ. of Rochester, etc. Rochester has a strong tradition of supporting independent films, too.

  28. you guys were great on science Friday, i think a perfect place to screen the film is the outdoor mizner park boca raton, fl maybe in concert with FAU, Florida Atlantic university. I will ask my daughter at FAU to push the movie and screening.

  29. Bruce Beattie says:

    I hope you guys can have a showing at one of the the Science Pub evenings here in Portland Oregon. The people at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI, ) can point you to the contact. This is a open to the public lecture/film venue happening once a month in a old movie theater. I heard the NPR segment and would like to hear more.

    • Mark Halpern says:

      Portland is a pretty easy trip from Vancouver, where a lot of the scientists from BLAST live and work. If there is a showing I am sure we could come along and answer questions about the science and about being on the ice.

  30. Paul Devlin says:

    BLAST! will be featured on NPR’s Science Friday, this Friday June 26th between 3-4PM Eastern Time.

    Check it out!

    • Amy says:

      I just streamed Science Friday. I would love to see your film and bring all my family and friends. My sister is a immunology post-doc. I know how interesting scientists are (she speaks a different language)! Congrats!

    • Paul Devlin says:

      Thanks Amy. Make sure you sign up for a screening request on the map on the Home Page and we’ll keep you posted on screenings in your area.

      I know what you mean about scientists speaking a different language. When my brother and father used to start speaking in math, the rest of us would have to leave the dinner table.

  31. Amber Yoder says:

    It was really great attending the BLAST! premiere at the IFC center. We had such an awesome turn out, and Mark and Paul did a wonderful job with the Q&A. Also, I really loved the special BLAST! cocktails at the bar after the screening!

  32. Mark Devlin says:

    I had a great time in NYC this past weekend at the BLAST! movie premier as well as a number of Q&A sessions at Cinema Village. I continue to be impressed by the enthusiasm and in-depth questions from the audience….they are really into it!

    This summer I am continuing to work on BLAST analysis and putting out papers. We are also rebuilding the experiment. BLAST (reborn) will now be called BLAST-pol.

    I am also spending a lot of time working on our telescope in Chile – The Atacama Cosmology Telescope – ACT.

  33. Paul Devlin says:

    BLAST! packed the house last Thursday at the IFC Center! And the Q&A and gathering afterward were fantastic. Lots of fun.

    The reviews have been GREAT in the national press. Check out our reviews page for links.

    Some of the local New York press seemed to feel that science content does not belong in their theaters, but that just brings out the rebel in us: Tough! (You’ll have to find those reviews on your own. ;) )

    On Sunday we joined the festivities at the World Science Festival in Washington Square Park and passed out BLAST! balloons to hundreds of kids (and many more promotional postcards to their parents) Gorgeous day, and a great time.

    3 days left to catch BLAST! at Cinema Village! The New York theatrical run has been exhausting, but very worthwhile.

  34. Paul Devlin says:

    The New York theatrical premiere of BLAST! is only 1 week away!

    IFC Center, 323 6th Ave ( on June 11th and Cinema Village, 22 East 12th St ( June 12th – 18th (5 shows daily). Please spread the word and help us fill the seats, especially on that crucial opening weekend!

    We had a our second press screening today, which included New York Times and Time Out New York. I also did an interview with AMNY which is a free morning newspaper that gets distributed all over New York City. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for good press!

    Paul Devlin

  35. admin says:

    Thanks for joining our Guestblog. We hope to start a conversation about the
    movie, the BLAST experiment and astronomy and science in general. Add your
    comments and come back often for more news and insights.

    Paul Devlin, Director, BLAST!

  36. BLAST! says:

    BLAST! is live on Twitter now. Follow us at

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