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ASU collaborates on 'American POP!' comic book, sci-fi exhibit

January 17, 2014

The popular culture we love – movies, TV, literature, video games – can have an enormous impact on the way we see the world, and it feeds our passion to learn about new ideas and imagine the world differently. This is especially true for science fiction: many scientists and engineers can trace their interest in science back to a moment in their past when a fictional universe like "Star Trek" or "2001: A Space Odyssey" inspired them to learn more about the world around them.

From Jan. 17 through June 8, the Tempe Center for the Arts presents "American POP! Comic Books to Science Fiction...and Beyond," an exhibition that explores the transformative effects that science fiction and popular culture have on our everyday lives and the technology that surrounds us. Displays include materials from local and national collectors, original art and limited edition pieces from some of America’s favorite pop culture icons, as well as science exhibits.

The Tempe Center for the Arts and Arizona State University have worked together to create an exhibit that will investigate the relationship between popular culture, scientific inquiry, technological innovation and cultural change. Several ASU units, including the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Center for Science and the Imagination, contributed to the design of the exhibit.

In an effort to bring some reality to all the pop culture and science fiction, the School of Earth and Space Exploration will be providing nonfiction scientific displays and all-too-real, stunning images of actual science, including exhibits specific to the moon, Mars and meteorites.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team, located on ASU’s Tempe campus, will be providing 24 framed lunar images and a few larger panels. The Ronald Greeley Center for Planetary Studies will provide images from various early NASA missions, including Viking and Voyager. The Mars Space Flight Facility will provide images from various missions, past and ongoing, including a panoramic landscape that will be used as a backdrop for “Marvin the Martian,” a 4-foot-high 3-D model that belonged to the iconic character’s creator, Chuck Jones. A replica of the ray guns that Marvin used will also be available for a photo op. The Center for Meteorite Studies will provide samples of lunar, Martian and other meteorites to be displayed in each of these exhibits. As a part of the meteorite display, artistic and informative digital images of meteorite sections will be displayed as large banners.

As a part of this innovative exhibition, Tempe Center for the Arts also partnered with ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination. The ASU center filmed a series of video interviews with scientists, engineers and other creative people from ASU and beyond, tracing the influence of science fiction and popular culture on their education, their careers and their scientific and creative work. The video exhibit is online now at, and will air in the exhibit, starting Jan. 17.

“Our mission is to bring scientists, engineers and technologists together with writers, artists and other creative thinkers to imagine our future differently,” says Ed Finn, Center for Science and the Imagination director. “Building these collaborations has helped us realize that there is a vibrant flow of ideas between the scientific community and the science fiction community. This exhibit is a great example of how understanding pop culture helps you better understand the culture of science and engineering, and vice versa.”

Two School of Earth and Space Exploration scientists are featured in the video collection. Earth and space associate research professor David Williams discussed how his work on planetary geology was inspired by his childhood fascination with the "Star Trek" universe, complete with a question about “cold fusion,” a science fictional process that "Star Trek’s" Mr. Spock (Williams’ favorite fictional character) uses to stop a volcanic eruption in the 2013 film "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Melissa Morris, assistant director of the Center for Meteorite Studies, was also interviewed, with her interview focusing on science fiction’s ability to present optimistic and inspiring visions of the future, as well as the planet-generating spaceship featured in the film "Titan A.E." Other ASU scholars featured in the collection include David Guston, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Jeff Yarger, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Ron Broglio, associate professor in the Department of English.

A collection of Williams’ and Morris’ science fiction-related personal items will also be on display at the exhibit. Be sure to check out Williams’ "Star Trek" uniform from his graduate student days, and a retro "Star Trek" transport toy – with all the characters.

Each Friday evening from Jan. 17 through June 8, Tempe Center for the Arts will host Sci-Fi Friday, featuring presentations on subjects ranging from robotics to game design to planetary imaging. Several SESE community members, including a student, will be presenting.

• Feb. 7: David Williams, “Asteroids, Ion Propulsion and NASA’s Dawn Mission to Vesta and Ceres”
• Feb. 14: Graduate student Teresa Ashcraft will present hands-on demonstrations, Internet resources and lesson plan information for teachers
• March 14: Professor Mark Robinson will discuss what scientists have learned about the moon from recent missions and the future of lunar exploration
• April 4: Melissa Morris, “Rocks from Space”
• April 11: Meg Hufford and Amy Zink from the Ronald Greeley Center for Planetary Studies

Further details can be found at: