When Scientists Write Sci-Fi

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Oct. 21, 2015, marked the day that Marty McFly arrived to his future from 30 years in our past. With anticipation, we analyzed the movie and our current science to compare the predictions of Robert Zemeckis against reality. Short of things being developed because of his movie, his Nostradamus rating was pretty low. A case can be made that great science fiction comes from great science. To illustrate the point, here are scientists turned storytellers, in order of education in the discipline.

James Cameron and ‘The Abyss’

On James Cameron’s Wiki page, he’s described as a filmmaker, inventor, engineer, and deep-sea explorer. Before being bit by the filmmaking bug, Cameron studied physics. It makes sense that his script for “The Abyss” was riddled with good science. Especially look at the scene where they demonstrate the oxygenated fluorocarbon liquid on the rat. There were no special effects in that scene. A real rodent was submerged in a specially designed fluorocarbon liquid that has the ability to transport oxygen. Because the fluid is not compressible like gases, it allows divers the ability to go deeper than they could with compressed air tanks. By the way, the rat was physically unharmed by the performance but the Human Society had that scene banned in Europe, citing animal cruelty and stress.

Andy Weir and ‘The Martian’

In the newly released movie “The Martian,” Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and, to survive, needs to “science the s**t out of this,” which became a favorite line of Neil deGrasse Tyson and the world. It is a pretty safe guess that the author Andy Weir sciences everything because science is in his blood. He is a computer programmer by pre-bestseller profession. To compound his scientific credibility, Weir’s dad was a physicist and his mom was an electrical engineer. “The Martian” is full of great science, even if the scientific community wants to nitpick the details a bit. From growing vegetables with Martian soil to making water out of hydrazine fuel, much of the science is plausible, if not the most practical. Maybe we can strand someone on Mars and see what they come up with.

Arthur C. Clarke and ‘A Space Odyssey’

Stanley Kubrick’s version of “2001: A Space Odyssey” had to be scientifically accurate because the book author and script collaborator Arthur C. Clarke spent most of his life with one foot in science fiction and the other is space aeronautics. With a first-class degree in math and physics, equivalent to a hybrid bachelor’s/master’s degree in the U.S., Clarke was instrumental in the design of the geocentric satellite and well as a big player in the fiscal oversight of government run space programs. The movement of the astronauts in “2001” was a huge departure from the hop-around space movement depicted in prior movies. The science of that movie was so elegantly placed that it would take a physicist to appreciate its beauty.

Isaac Asimov and just about everything

Famous for his “Robot” novels, in which robots guided by the Three Laws of Robotics work side by side with humans, Asimov was also a prolific science writer with more than 60 books on topics ranging the scope of science. Asimov was a professor with a PhD in biochemistry. When physicist Dave Goldberg lists his best science fiction picks, he points out that the Three Laws would need to be imprinted but everything else is “pretty good,” which is pretty high praise for a physicist.

 

 

Article was guest written By Paul Reyes-Fournier. Making complex ideas into something understandable.

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