Science Meets Science Fiction at Duke University
When Duke professor Mark Kruse was asked to co-advise a dissertation that covered both literature and physics, it reminded him of his childhood love of science fiction. Kruse, whose specialty is in particle physics, decided to recruit the help of fellow Duke professor Katherine Hayles to create a class that explored the intersection between science fiction and science fact - the first of its kind to be offered at the university.
Credit: Daniel Dominguez, CERN
Hayles specializes in science fiction literature, and their original plan was to structure the class in such a way as to keep their realms of expertise separate. Hayles would focus on the social, political, and philosophical implications, while Kruse would tackle the scientific accuracy of various science fiction stories. However, as the course progressed, the line between the two began to blur, as students from all disciplines began to push the boundaries of Kruse's research.
Kruse, who is a member of the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, was blown away by the response to the course: "We had amazing questions from the humanities students that really probed the scientific concepts we were discussing," he says. "I was really impressed that they were taking the science so seriously."
The class elicited positive reactions from students regardless of major. Students pursuing careers within scientific disciplines claimed that the course was valuable for their critical reading, discussion, and presentation skills, while students pursuing humanities appreciated that the class encouraged them to base their theories on evidence and to give concrete justifications for their ideas.
For their final project, students wrote short science fiction stories based on the concepts discussed in class. These stories can be found here, and readers are encouraged to "read in any order, at any time, spontaneously, sporadically, and/or simultaneously."