Science Outreach Through Fiction

Over at, David Levine describes a really cool event he went to just before Worldcon: a crash course in modern astronomy for SF writers:

The idea behind Launch Pad is Gernsbackian: getting good science into popular fiction as a form of public education and outreach for NASA. SF writer and University of Wyoming astronomy professor Mike Brotherton managed to get a NASA grant to fund this workshop for five years, of which this was the second. All the attendees’ expenses were paid, including transportation to and from Laramie, housing in college dorms, and most meals–though we had to pay for our own drinks (no alcohol on the taxpayer’s nickel!). Attendees were chosen from the pool of applicants based on the size of their existing audience, their demonstrated interest in science and astronomy, and the diversity of the group.

I was truly honored to be selected for this year’s workshop, which also included Nancy Kress, Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, Jay Lake, David Marusek, Mary Robinette Kowal (who went on to win the John W. Campbell Award the following week), and copy editor Deanna Hoak. We formed a cohesive and supportive community of writers, chatting about craft and business over meals and working together to comprehend the challenging subject matter.

And it was a tremendous challenge. It was as though each of us had one of those little turkey timers in our foreheads. One by one, depending on our science backgrounds and current intellectual capacity, heads filled up and the timer went pop!, indicating that particular head was unable to absorb any more information in that particular lecture. Some people’s timers went off right at the beginnings of some lectures, others lasted until late in the week. But all of us eventually reached saturation. Even a hard science fiction writer’s brain has its limits.

David goes on to give a detailed recap of the topics covered over the course of the week-long workshop, and it sounds amazing.

This is a terrific idea– good enough that I’m surprised NASA approved it… (Actually, the cost of the whole thing is probably about equal to the rounding error in NASA’s annual budget.) The question now is, how do we get NSF to fund something similar for quantum physics, and get them to invite me?

2 thoughts on “Science Outreach Through Fiction

  1. “The question now is, how do we get NSF to fund something similar for quantum physics, and get them to invite me?”

    In some views of quantum physics, they did do that and you were invited in a parallel universe. Can’t you be happy with that?!

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