“I have always felt that science, technology, and art are importantly connected; indeed, science and technology seem to many scholars to have grown out of art.” – Robert R. Wilson, Director of Fermilab
Works of science fiction and fantasy are an enormously important part of our culture. From Game of Thrones to Star Wars to Stranger Things, these tales of monsters, spaceships and unlikely heroes grab our attention and capture our hearts. And while these stories may take place on another planet, or in another universe entirely, they still use our scientific principles and knowledge to ground their fiction in our real world experiences, allowing the characters and their surroundings to be relatable despite how unconventional they may be. In fact, It is often the science behind the stories that makes them the most believable; it ties them to reality just enough to make us accept the things that are make-believe right along with the things that really do exist. And as science develops and explores new territories, so does our imagination. For example, when we sent the first human into space in the 1960’s, two of the most famous examples of space-inspired science fiction appeared on screen: Star Trek and Star Wars. And people love to explore how science has played a role in these works of art. Many articles and books are published with titles like “The Science of Game of Thrones” and “The Science of Harry Potter.” We can’t help but hunt for the science behind the magical and made-up. But does this work the other way around? Do fiction and fantasy also have an influence on science?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” Our imagination is what allows us to come up with creative solutions to problems, to push past our observations and explore beyond what we can’t experience first hand. And because our imagination has no rules or boundaries, we can use it to look further into the future at what could be possible. But don’t take my word for it, here are some world-changing inventions that were influenced by works of science fiction and fantasy.
The Submarine – The inventor of the first Submarine, Simon Lake, was inspired to pursue underwater exploration after he read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. In fact, it was Jules Verne who wrote “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real” in his book “Around the World in 80 days.”
The Rocket – The first liquid propelled rocket was created by Robert H. Goddard, who stated that he was inspired to explore space travel after he read “War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells.
The Cell Phone – Motorola credited the handheld communicator from Star Trek as being the first inspiration for the design of the cell phone. Their Director of Research and Development stated that creating a device similar to that imaginary communicator was more than fantasy to them, it was their objective.
And there are so many more examples — robotics companies teaming up with Pixar animators to create more life-like robots, 3D printer inventors teaming up with sculptors to improve their processes, and so on.
We so often separate science from art, placing them in separate classrooms, buildings, and entirely different programs in our schools, universities, and places of work. And while they do require different skills and resources, it is important to remember that science and art share a symbiotic relationship, each one pushing the other forward. So, whether you’re a biologist, painter, sculptor, or engineer, remember to take a minute to appreciate how many things around you grew out of that beautiful intersection between imagination and science.
Original illustration credit goes to the amazingly talented brother of the Smarty Scoop: Robin Speth.
Want to learn about more art-inspired inventions? Visit https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-inventions-inspired-by-science-fiction-128080674/?page=3
or to read more about art-thinking in science, visit http://www.zdnet.com/article/to-innovate-scientists-and-engineers-find-inspiration-in-the-arts/