July 14, 1999

BS in Science Fiction, Literally

by Leander Kahney

3:00 a.m. 14.Jul.99.PDT
Hoping to inject some imagination into the pursuit of science, a British university is offering the world's first degree in science fiction.

The University of Glamorgan in South Wales will begin enrolling students this fall into its BSc in Science and Science Fiction course of study.

Aimed at future researchers, science teachers, and journalists, the three-year honors degree will examine the relationship between science fiction and science as fact in literature, the media, TV, cinema, and even computer games.

"It's about time science fiction was treated as a worthy subject at [the] university level," said Dr. Mark Brake, the course's principal lecturer.

Brake, an astronomer, said the course of study will be divided evenly between traditional science subjects like astronomy and space science and the fictional depiction of these disciplines.

The science fiction modules will include studies of aliens and their use in science fiction, cyberpunks, and bio-modification.

The university aims to attract between 50 and 100 students in the first year. Brake said he hoped the course will gain in popularity as word gets around.

To date, studies of science fiction have been restricted to English departments, Brake said. The Science and Science Fiction degree will be the first to look at it from a science angle, he said.

Last year, the university offered a course in aliens and UFOs called "Life in the Universe," which proved extremely popular, said Brake.

Brake believes that due to a number of factors, including a brain drain, British science is generally lacking in imagination and creativity. He hopes the study of science fiction will inject it with a bit of juice.

Brake also hopes the course will create better science communicators and provide a better perspective than a traditional scientific education.

"The problem with a lot of science undergraduates is that they're spoon- fed," he said. "They can be unthinking, uncritical. We're hoping to kick in a bit more critical thinking. We hope our students will be a bit more rounded than your typical science undergraduate."