Transformation & Transmutation: Chemistry in Science Fiction (Science Literacy Week)


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Transformation & Transmutation: Chemistry in Science Fiction [Display]


 Science Literacy Week highlights Canada’s outstanding scientists and science communicators from coast-to-coast. The goals are to showcase the excellence and diversity of Canadian science and to show how exciting science is. Be it as simple as a science-themed book display encouraging people to read something a little different to multi-day events, the week offers something for everyone. For one week in September, libraries, universities, museums and other partners put on a spectacular nationwide festival of science.

About Science Literacy Week

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Follow the Sci Lit Conversation! #scilit16


Sci Lit Week @ UofT

This year’s theme is Science Fiction – From Idea to Invention!
If you’re curious about all the events and displays around University of Toronto, visit the Sci Lit Guide.


Chemistry in science fiction – or, a lack thereof

 “Chemistry makes occasional appearances in fiction but rarely takes centre stage.”

 “Does chemistry have anything to offer the modern writer beyond a means of bumping off characters in crime thrillers?”

         – Philip Ball, “Literary Reactions,” Chemistry World


“Does [science fiction] have a role to play in the everyday practice of science? Should chemistry and fiction play off each other, and if so, how? I propose that science fiction is more than just entertainment; it can act as a conduit between scientists and the public — a form of science communication.”

– Michelle Francl, “Strangers to Fiction,”  Nature Chemistry


This display shows some examples of chemistry in science fiction. From the potions of Dr. Griffin in The Invisible Man to those of Dr. Jekyll in the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, potions and alchemy (chemistry) have been at the root of transformation and transmutation. This has not always been a positive role.

So what can chemistry in fiction offer to scientific progress and invention? Leave a comment with your ideas!


Reading & Watching List

Philip Ball, “Literary Reactions,” Chemistry World (2008)

Michelle Francl, “Strangers to Fiction,” Nature Chemistry (2016) [needs UTORid login]

Sylvana Derjani-Bayeh & Claudio Olivera-Fuentes, “Winds are from Venus, Mountains are from Mars: Science Fiction in Chemical Engineering Education,” Education for Chemical Engineers (2011) [needs UTORid login]

Hikmet Surmeli, “Examination the Effect of Science Fiction Films on Science Education Students’ Attitudes Towards STS Course,” Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences (2012)

Geoff Maitland, “Ten Ways Chemical Engineering Has Changed Science Fiction into Fact,” Institute of Chemical Engineers (2015)

Maddie Crum, “This 400-Year-Old Story Might be the First-Ever Sci-Fi Book,” Huffington Post (2016) [My Chemical Wedding]

Science Literacy Week Playlist on the A.D. Allen Chemistry Library Youtube Channel

Daniel Hope, “17 of the Most Literary Science Fiction Novels,” Lit Reactor (2013)

Easton, “Invisible Man: From Myth to Invisibility Cloak and Reality,” WT Vox (2016)

NYAM Center for History, “Bidloo’s Anatomia: The Brain,” NYAM Books, Health, and History (2014)

Rebecca Boyle, “Chemistry on Mars!” Popular Science (2012)




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