Anchorage, AK may be more than 3,000 miles away from the Stevens Institute of Technology campus in Hoboken, NJ, but Ph.D. candidate Dennis Cohen proves that the gulf between screenwriting and physics is not so large. This summer he won third place in the screenplay competition of the 2010 Alaska International Film Awards.
The prize comes after years of hard work both inside and outside of the lab. By day Cohen pursues a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Physics in Stevens Light and Life Laboratory and teaches a section of PEP 123, “Physics for Business and Technology I.” By night he writes and revises his literary pursuits. His screenplay, “Caroline and Johann: A Love Story,” is a fictional retelling of the historical 18th Century affair between the Queen of Denmark Caroline Matilda of Great Britain and the royal court physician. Cohen affirms that writing offers him an outlet when physics becomes stressful. “Some people go off into the mountains to climb; I sit down and write screenplays,” he says.
His thesis, a study of computer simulations of energy transfer in the atmosphere titled, “Discrete ordinate and Monte Carlo simulations for polarized radiative transfer in a coupled system with non-Rayleigh scattering,” seems worlds away from an ill-fated love affair. But Cohen, who holds master’s degrees in Physics from the University of Wyoming and Nuclear Engineering from the University of New Mexico, says he is simply pursuing his two passions. “My plan was to do physics and to write,” Cohen says, citing other writer-academics like Lewis Carroll (a mathematician) and Charles Percy Snow (a physicist). “It is possible, but it’s not that easy,” Cohen explains.
Cohen says he hopes to bridge the gap between science and film with an upcoming screenplay about physicist and chemist Marie Curie. It may be a while, though, before that one is written. Cohen explains, “I want to start writing it now, but I have a little thing called a thesis to work on.”