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Virus Hunter Puts Science on the Big Screen

When the Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns decided to collaborate on a movie about a deadly virus that ignites a global pandemic, they were determined that the film be firmly grounded in scientific fact, not science fiction. So Burns, the writer behind The Bourne Ultimatum, began consulting scientists for guidance. “When I asked who was the best virologist … who could help me create a believable virus and help spin out the ramifications," Burns remembers being told one name "without hesitation": Dr. Ian Lipkin.

The John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and a professor of neurology and pathology, W. Ian Lipkin heads the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and is a widely consulted expert on newly emerging infectious diseases. Other filmmakers had sought his advice before without success, but what particularly drew his attention to this project was a pledge from producer Michael Shamberg:“It is our intention that the scientific community feel that we have gotten the facts right in our film.”

Lipkin signed on as technical adviser in 2009, beginning a collaboration that culminated on Sept. 9 with the release of the film Contagion, featuring a star-studded cast that includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Elliott Gould, who plays a virologist named Ian, based on Lipkin himself.

See Dr. Lipkin's New York Times op-ed piece about the movie and its real-life implications.

Read full Record article about Dr. Lipkin and Contagion.

See digital press kit for Contagion.

September 12, 2011