Resources: Science for writers

mathematics scienceGood science resources abound and are important both for non-fiction writers and for science-fiction authors. This post gives some obvious resources and maybe some less so. I will also illustrate with a couple of recent examples. Feel free to suggest further resources that you use. It is also worth cultivating some friends with a scientific background. I myself have a Physics degree, though it is thirty years old (!) and there is a lot I have become aware of since.

The list

First a short set of resources in (approximate) descending order of scientific quality:

  • New Scientist (I am a UK writer so this comes top). This is accessible, well illustrated and doesn’t dilute the science
  • Scientific American  (I am sure US writers start here first). Same comments as New Scientist
  • BBC News / Science & Environment. The BBC covers many current topics and articles here are not aimed at scientists
  • Engadget / The Register – these have very few science stories but when they do you can be sure they are something that has potential. Don’t forget technology and engineering are the practical wing of science.

I tend to hang around the lower reaches of this list and when I discover something intriguing explore it on New Scientist (or wiki of course).

I’d like to take some more of your time and illustrate with some examples if I may. One is the Quantum Cheshire Cat the other something called the EM Drive.

The Quantum Cheshire Cat

First nip off and read the article on the BBC website: ‘Quantum Cheshire Cat’ becomes reality. Back? Thanks. I like this as I am very bored of writers who take their time to explain Schrödingers Cat to introduce some science to a story. I am finishing some stories for a small set call Three Drops in Time. One of these (called Parallels) needs to discuss the aforementioned cat. I can now spice the scene up with mention of this more interesting cat as well and make the whole piece more interesting.

The EM Drive

I encountered this today; it might be moonshine, a scam, a mistake or reality. It seems to be a reactionless drive, something that is up there with perpetual motion as a magic ingredient that makes (for some people) stories less than perfectly pristine in their science. As a reveiwer I criticise writers for dodgy Physics but do subscribe to the rule that you can have one violation of the laws of nature to make a story work. I read a Niven / Benford book called Bowl of Heaven which is very careful to have lots of plausible (and spelled out in detail) engineering covering ramjets, proton scoops and a very clever central concept behind the … [that’s enough, Ed]. I like the EM Drive (ElectroMagnetic drive) and here are lots of links:

I love the description of an EMDrive chamber from wiki:

magnetron producing microwaves directed inside a specially shaped, fully enclosed tapering high Q resonant cavity whose area is greater at one end, upon which radiation pressure would act differently due to a relativistic effect caused by the action of group velocity in different frames of reference.

It may be too much technical detail for most readers, but I can see the shape of a future spacecraft in my mind’s eye! I just need a story about travel to Mars to hang it on…

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