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Author Topic: Science Fiction in Science Class  (Read 5041 times)
polly_mer
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« on: January 03, 2013, 6:14:13 PM »

I am tasked with teaching something related to modern physics to people who will not have the relevant math to truly learn the physics.  Consequently, I have decided to go with doing a bare-bones explanation of the high points and using technology (real and science fiction) to illustrate applications of modern physics.

I'm good on the real applications, but I'm looking for suggestions on movie/television series for applications (good or bad) to start talking about what happens and what the actual physics and/or engineering would be in our universe (could we work up to that or is it breaking a physical law?).

I'm envisioning showing a scene and then discussing what the given explanation is versus the science as we currently know it.

I know we have some science fiction fans here.  Help me out with examples of relativity, quantum mechanics, wave-particle duality, and similar topics.
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bibliothecula
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like Bunnicula, only with books


« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2013, 6:26:27 PM »

I read something one about Star Wars in which the author wrote about Luke and Han getting "blown up by the shrapnel of their own success." Is that the kind of thing you're looking for? In that case, my husband (a chemical engineer with a strong physics background) groans at just about every sci-fi movie. These days when one of us starts to complain about inaccuracy in our fields, we turn to the other and say, "Flying men. Shut up."

Other specific examples....Superman flying backwards around the world in Superman II, the Richard Donner cut, to change the past? Light sabers (SW again)? Lightspeed travel (and again)? Firing a gun into space (Serenity)? The Star Trek transporter? Phasers?
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cc_alan
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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2013, 6:34:11 PM »

OMG, the entire series of Fringe!

Alan
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polly_mer
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Have you worked on that project today?


« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2013, 6:43:11 PM »

Thanks, Bibliothecula.  I'd forgotten about Superman's turning the world backward to reverse time.  The list is great.
OMG, the entire series of Fringe!

Alan

This is not helpful since I've seen about half of one episode.  Can you give an explicit suggestion like phasers or light sabers or one episode that I should see?
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mystictechgal
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« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2013, 6:46:30 PM »

You might be able to get some ideas on some of these sites:

http://www.scifiscience.co.uk/ (UK scientists looking at what is, might be, or isn't possible. Includes links to books and articles)

http://whatweekly.com/2012/08/02/real-science-fiction/ (10 things from science fiction that are real--for a price)


http://appreviews4u.com/2012/07/24/star-trek-tech-its-on-its-way-no-wormhole-necessary/ (Star Trek technology that may be in our future. There's a whole bunch of articles about what already has become real.)

Sounds like a fun class.

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geonerd
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« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2013, 6:49:22 PM »

If you're willing to take some of the bad, there are lots of possibilities in Star Trek: warp drive, transporters, food synthesizer, tractor beam, holodeck, sub-space communications.
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polly_mer
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Have you worked on that project today?


« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2013, 6:51:16 PM »

In case other people were looking for suggestions on this topic, I've received via PM James Kakalios' book The Physics of Superheroes.  The relevant website is http://www.physicsofsuperheroes.com/

If you're willing to take some of the bad, there are lots of possibilities in Star Trek: warp drive, transporters, food synthesizer, tractor beam, holodeck, sub-space communications.

Oh, I'm definitely looking for both good and bad.  Why can't we have warp drive (doggone relativity)?  What's wrong with transporters if we can do quantum entanglement?  (I'm using Timeline to mention the problems that everyone can understand even though that's time travel).
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chaosbydesign
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« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2013, 7:25:04 PM »

What about the use of 'artificial gravity' in all of the sci-fi spaceships I can think of?
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elsie
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« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2013, 7:30:10 PM »

Alternate universes?
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msparticularity
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« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2013, 7:54:04 PM »

When I high school I was teamed with English and science colleagues; I taught the "history of" a lot of science topics while teaching early modern and modern history. In addition to the stuff like you're talking about using (which my colleagues did in their classes) I also used excerpts from Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everythng. My students always wondered who sat around and thought this stuff up, and often the answer is--some pretty weird people, and fairly often the discovery was accidental, triggered by something else they were working on.

Mostly, though, I think you probably want Walter Lewin--NYT article and links to some videos here.
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conjugate
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« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2013, 8:05:40 PM »

In Babylon-5, the space station and large human space craft had to spin to produce artificial gravity.  In contrast, the Minbari (technically sophisticated aliens) rather smugly produced their own gravity.  You excluded books, so that Lawrence Krauss's The Physics of Star Trek (which also addresses many other tales, not just ST) might not be the best thing for the students to read, but might be a good source for you.

I checked for a web site I remember reading years ago about bad physics in movies, and the closest I could find was this i09 story about bad movie physics.  I hope these help; good luck and enjoy the class.
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onthefringe
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« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2013, 8:55:19 PM »

A good place to poke around is the tv tropes and idioms site, specifically the sf section (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpeculativeFictionTropes)

For example, under "square cube law" on that page, it points you to episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Big Bang Theory, Farscape, and others.

From experience, sometimes it can be a bit tough to track down the actual episode ( on this page they give a specific episode for Buffy, and link out to one for Big Bang Theory, but not for the other shows cited) but I've been successful several times
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elsie
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2013, 8:57:28 PM »

That's a dangerous website. Hours and hours can be wasted there, just going from one link to the next.
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onthefringe
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« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2013, 8:59:11 PM »

Oh, yes, I've lost whole days of prep for my biology in fiction seminar there. But I've found really cool stuff.
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usukprof
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.


« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2013, 9:34:37 PM »

Roadrunner physics.
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