Does science fiction inform research, or is it always fiction?
“And so, sleeping, and sometimes talking and reading a little, and at times eating although without any keenness of appetite, but for the most part in a sort of quiescence that was neither waking nor slumber, we fell through a space of time that had neither night nor day in it, silently, softly, and swiftly down towards the moon.”
Fans of H.G. Wells will recognize those words as being from Wells’ novel, “The First Men in the Moon,” written from 1899-1901, when traveling to the moon was just a dream in the mind of the earliest science-fiction writers.
Science fiction is entertaining, of course, but does it serve a larger purpose? Does it inform our thoughts of the future, inspire us to discovery and research?
These are some of the questions posed in an exhibit at Noble Science and Engineering Library, Tempe campus, titled “Science and Science Fiction: Intersections of Imagination and Reality,” on view through Sept. 30.
The exhibit showcases materials from ASU Libraries’ Department of Archives and Special Collections, Mars Education Program, the Mor Lab (School of Life Sciences/Biodesign Institute), Hayden Library Government Documents, Noble Library Map Collection, materials available for borrowing from all ASU Libraries branches, and the Sustainable P Initiative, and also looks at related research going on at ASU right now.
The general themes are SciFi and Science, Mars, robots, genetics, sustainability, moon and space travel/habitats, "Star Trek" and space stations.
Among the more unusual items are letters from science-fiction writer Alan Dean Foster to Gene Roddenberry, creator of "Star Trek" television program; an 1871 edition of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” in French; a model of Olympus Mons, the tallest known volcano and mountain in the solar system; a copy of the script for a 1978 "Star Trek" film; and a copy of the "Pop-Up Book of Spacecraft" by Anton Radevsty.
One portion of the Star Trek case looks at “futuristic” items created for the show, and their modern counterparts, such as personal access display devices and energy transporters.
Every theme case also highlights research and programs going on at ASU, or publications by ASU authors.
The robotics display, with two timelines – fictional and factual – includes three panels featuring robotics activities and research at ASU: ASU’s robotics camp, the Intel Robotics program and Sun Devil Robotics.
The idea for the exhibit came from Ginny Pannabecker, supervisor of Noble’s collection and maintenance unit.
“I started thinking about the projects going on now at ASU, and wondered if there was a connection with what people had imagined would happen in the future,” she said.
“I got a group of staff together who were interested, and we talked about the science fiction connections to ASU. We found that there were so many things we could do.”
The group, which included Sydni Abrahamsen, Mike Barrows and Tom Wills, began discussing the possibility of an exhibit in late January. After more than five months of work, it was installed in Noble in late June.
There also is a student connection to the exhibit. Damir Pecenkovic, a senior majoring in film and media production, designed the exhibit poster, which pairs an image of a space-suit-clad person from the fall 1954 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine as featured in the film “Back to the Future,” with an image of Neil Armstrong.
To allow viewers to further participate in the exhibit theme, circulating copies of the books on display, when available, are on reserve at the Noble checkout desk, as are DVDs of some of the highlighted films. A handout linked online through the exhibition announcement lists further related novels, films and non-fiction available through ASU Libraries.
The exhibit has three broad themes: inspiration, education and understanding.
The library team wrote about the themes, “Some writers, like author James Gunn, see science fiction as a ‘literature of change.’ Others, like physicist Stephen Hawking, see it as a method to explore scientific theory,” they noted. “Science fiction authors Jules Verne, Hal Cement and Arthur C. Clarke are known for works that project, extend and expand knowledge of fields like engineering or physics.”
Authors such as ASU’s Lawrence Krauss, “also highlight science fiction’s relationship to education as a research motivation or as a teaching example for applying scientific theory to imagined scenarios or inventions.”
And, educators such as ASU professors Clark Miller and Ira Bennett, are researching the genre’s potential for promoting understanding of scientific research and engaging the public in discussion of policy issues related to science and technology.
“Works by H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Ursula K. LeGuin are known for focusing on social aspects of scientific and technological innovation.”
The exhibit is open during normal library hours: 7 a.m.-midnight, Monday-Thursday; 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday; and 10 a.m.-midnight, Sunday. For more information contact Pannabecker at (480) 965-1434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.