I've been thinking a lot lately on how science and science fiction continually inspire each other. Science comes out with a new discovery that revolutionizes the way we view things, science fiction takes that idea and runs with it. The converse is true, too! Doubly so!

Some examples:

The Submarine - American inventor Simon Lake had been captivated by the idea of undersea travel and exploration ever since he read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870. Lake’s innovations included ballast tanks, divers’ compartments and the periscope. His company built the Argonaut—the first submarine to operate successfully in the open ocean, in 1898*

The Rocket - Robert H. Goddard, the American scientist who built the first liquid-fueled rocket—which he successfully launched on March 16, 1926—became fascinated with spaceflight after reading an 1898 newspaper serialization of H.G. Wells’ classic novel about a Martian invasion, War of the Worlds. As Goddard would recall later, the concept of interplanetary flight “gripped my imagination tremendously.”*

The Cell Phone - Martin Cooper, the director of research and development at Motorola, credited the “Star Trek” communicator as his inspiration for the design of the first mobile phone in the early 1970s. “That was not fantasy to us,” Cooper said, “that was an objective."*

Quicktime - Apple scientist Steve Perlman says that he got the idea for the ground breaking multimedia program QuickTime after watching an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” wherein one of the characters is listening to multiple music tracks on his computer.*

* = Nicked from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Ten-Inventions-Inspire...

The list doesn't end there. Space exploration owes quite a bit to dreamers who imagined what may be on neighbouring planets. The more we discover about our universe, the more fiction we write; the more fiction we write, the more inspiration there is to fledgling scientists. 

This is the only feedback loop that matters, all boiling down to inspiring our youth to make more and more discoveries about the universe and our place within it.

What are your thoughts?

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Comment by Sanjoy Som on January 23, 2013 at 2:03pm

This makes a great deal of sense! Scientists and engineers are the most productive when they are inspired, and inspiration does not always come from thin air! It comes from reading, listening  and talking to other people  and other people's work, and by paying attention to what has been done in the past that is relevant to one's idea. Science fiction has definitely inspired science as you've nicely illustrated above. Science fiction "keeps the dream alive" while science works hard to get there. Nice post!

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