Future Science!

Science is boring. Everybody learned in school that it is not possible to make learning about atoms or molecules or cells exciting, much less rockets or thunderstorms or volcanoes or explosions… OK, maybe science is not that boring. But on the other hand, there is plenty of information out there about what we already know. Chemistry, physics, biology, health – it is all well-represented and you have probably read several books about most of them. But what about what we do not know or theories that we are testing today? Future science, as I call it, is the science behind what may happen and may be possible tomorrow, but certainly is not today. Whether we are talking about teleporters or a Dyson Sphere, it is half nonfiction and half sci-fi and maybe utterly inconceivable. But it is a lot of fun!

One of my favorite books in the “future science” genre is I’m Working on That by William Shatner.  This excellent book discusses the relationship between modern-day science and the show Star Trek (in which William Shatner played the character Captain Kirk) and how each influenced the other. He proceeds to contemplate future breakthroughs in science, especially regarding various technologies and scientific phenomena that are popular in the Star Trek TV and movie franchise: teleporters, replicators, warp drive, etc. The book is written in terms such that anybody without a scientific background could pick it up and understand it and is generally quite funny and not dry at all.

Another book in this genre that I thoroughly enjoyed is Physics of the Future. This book, which has a subtitle of ungodly length, attempts to envision what science will be able to do in the not-so-distant future (2100). Written by a professor of physics at CUNY graduate, it explicitly says that it is grounded in reality and that prototypes of every technology that is discussed in the book exist. It certainly has fewer mind-blowing ideas than either of the other two books mentioned here, but is fun nonetheless. In fact, the idea that some of us may see some of this come to pass in our own lives is somewhat refreshing in this genre. Also helpful is the way the book is written: it is mostly composed of interviews with other technology experts, meaning that we get tastes of various styles and are not stuck with one voice for the entirety of the work.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the modern classic Year Million: Science at the Far Edge of Knowledge.  This book attempts to predict what science will be like not in 100 years like Physics of the Future, and not in 500-1000 years like I’m Working on That but in the year 1,000,000. It is somewhat dry in its writing as it is actually a series of commissioned essays written both by science fiction writers and by experts in various scientific fields. However, much of the content makes up for this. Some of the essays are just “what ifs” and some sound like the writer is thinking more 500 or 1000 years down the line rather than 1,000,000, but they all are fascinating and many offer what feels like a glimpse into what could be. It is not my favorite book on the subject, but it definitely is one that a lover of this genre should not miss.

A whole lot of this material is simply speculation and most of it will probably never come to pass. But it is a lot of fun to read about all of the crazy and optimistic ideas out there. If you finish these and enjoy them, do not worry—there is plenty more. Search the library catalog or come in to the reference desk and we will find you more to read.

- Ross H.


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