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Science Through Science Fiction


I had the pleasure of helping out at a Physics Hub last week in which I shared some of the resources I've put together to teach Physics through Science Fiction, mainly using the book pictured here. And arising from that I've also compiled the various bits and pieces that I talked about last night into one section of this website: Science Through Science Fiction | PhysicsResourceBank


The teaching of physics has always made use of real-world examples to help us understand the phenomena we study. This just expands that idea by using clips from science fiction movies instead of the real world. Obviously most of those clips strain the limits of the related science to the very edges of plausibility - and often far beyond those limits. But I find that getting students to ask the question - is the science involved valid or not - can be a fun way to help them dig a little deeper into the concepts to which they have just been introduced.


So, we can use a Spiderman movie to ask if a scaled-up spiders web could act as a spring and - obeying Hooke's Law - create sufficient force to stop a runaway train. Or we could look at Journey to the Moon (the first science fiction film, from 1902) which didn't foresee the use of rockets and instead fired their astronauts from a giant cannon, and we can use that clip to investigate the laws and equations of motion. Asking if humans could ever survive the accelerations involved.


A little less fanciful, a clip from the 1995 James Bond movie, Goldeneye, shows him cutting through 1-inch steel using a laser powered by his watched battery. Obviously lasers can cut steel, but this clip allows students to learn how they do that - by melting a narrow strip of the steel involved. And they can then see how this relates to specific heat capacity and to latent heats, as well the interconnections between power, energy and time: all key Leaving Cert topics.


There are several other clips used, all either embedded in a PowerPoint file, or linked to from one. Feel free to point me in the way of other example we could use if you come across any. I haven't even begun to dig into Star Trek!




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