Saturday, March 15, 2014

Using Science Fiction to Inspire Scientific Learning (Amy K. Nichols)

Growing up, I was a nerdy kid who loved reading. The books I loved most typically involved some form of time travel or world hopping. HG Wells’ Time Machine. CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Madeleine L'engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

I was inspired by what I read in science fiction stories, but sadly, I wasn’t inspired by science. There was a huge disconnect between the fascinating things I was reading, and the experience of sitting in science class. I hate to say it, but my high school science classes were boring. I don't think the teachers really wanted to be there. Now, all these years later, I feel like I’m discovering what could have (should have?) sparked my interest back then. Now I read books on string theory and time travel. I try to understand things like the Higgs boson and the holographic universe. I can’t help but wonder what could have happened if my high school science teachers had somehow tied science to the science fiction their students were reading. I imagine it would have made a huge difference in my life and the lives of my classmates.

This month we’re talking about how our books might be used in a classroom. There is a long lineage of amazing science fiction books out there. While the idea of my book being used in a classroom is humbling, the idea of a young person reading my book and becoming curious about the scientific ideas behind it thrills me to no end. 

My first two novels, Now That You’re Here (Knopf, December 2014) and While You Were Gone (Knopf, 2015), are about a boy who jumps from his world to a parallel universe. In the process of figuring out what caused his universe hopping, he and the other characters contemplate and wrestle with a number of scientific topics, including:
  • Time travel
  • Electromagnetic fields, waves and pulses
  • Fractals
  • Faraday cages
  • Unified field theory
  • Parallel universes / multiverse
  • Neutron stars and black holes
Perhaps it’s just my geeky enthusiasm speaking, but I think any of these topics could lead to interesting discussions and exploration in a classroom setting.

There’s another aspect to my novels, though, that could be useful to educators: a philosophical one. 

If parallel universes exist, what does that say about who we are as individuals? Suddenly there is another you. Actually, based on scientific models, there could be an infinite number of yous. Does that make you curious who you might be in another universe? Do the other yous like the same things you do? Do they wear their hair the same way? Hold the same jobs? Order the same take out? How much does genetics determine who we are, as opposed to environment? The existence of parallel universes puts an interesting spin on the nature vs. nurture question. 

The characters in my novels tackle the scientific puzzle of parallel universes, while also addressing the philosophical questions parallel universes raise. That made them fun to write, and hopefully fun to read and contemplate.


I’ve always preferred to read books that make me think. I like to wonder what else is out there, what more is possible. My hope is the books I write will cause my readers to wonder, too. And I can’t imagine a better scenario than doing so together, in a community, in a classroom. 

2 comments:

  1. What an incredibly cool post, Amy. I haven't read sci-fi in a while, and it makes me want to dive deep into the genre again...

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  2. I have always been fascinated with parallel universes and the concept of another me living a different life. It would be great if teachers used your book as a companion to what their teaching!

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