Program Descriptions - 2016

 First Contact: Improbable Dream or Worst Nightmare?

The merits and demerits of "activating" the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) by transitioning from passive listening to deliberate sending of messages to targeted star systems have become something of a hot topic again with the publication of the end-note in a recent Communications of the ACM by Seth Shostak, wherein SETI's senior astronomer takes an uncharacteristically pessimistic view of the possible consequences of reaching out to our interstellar neighbors. Can sci-fi serve as a Gedankenexperiment for possible outcomes in advance of the actuality?

What is ‘Science Fiction’?

A free-wheeling discussion between panelists and the audience about what does—or does not—count as science fiction. Are there common misconceptions about what qualifies? Or are we too limited in our thinking? What does the vox populi consider to be science fiction versus that of science fiction aficionados? Ultimately, who’s to say what is or is not science fiction?

Rise and Prevalence of Dystopian Science Fiction in Pop Culture

What is the behind the rise of dystopian science fiction and fantasy in pop culture today, and the corresponding decrease of optimistic science fiction? Films like Mad Max and Oblivion show different spectrums of a dystopian fate for humanity. Most sci-fi movies also have some kind of anti-future bent, and few and far between are movies and television programming showing a positive example of the future, such as Tomorrowland. Panelists will discuss the merits of using dystopian vs. optimistic sci-fi for storytelling, and also try to explain the rise of dystopian sci-fi over the past two decades and the effect these two models of science fiction have on society.

Nanotechnology – Fact from Fiction

Could Tony Stark really take a bullet in the face and be protected by transparent graphene? Could a ship heal itself without Cylon organic resin?  Could nanobots repair my broken leg or would that rob the Universe of energy? These are the types of questions scientists will answer during Nanotechnology – Fact From Fiction. An integral part of this panel is allowing the audience time to engage with the scientists. As such, each panelist will discuss the reality behind nanotechnology-specific pop culture references. Then the real fun begins. Audience members can share their thoughts, questions, and expectations about nanotechnology with the experts. 

3D Printing: “Replicating” Success

The idea of a machine making what you want, when you want it, is common in science fiction. From The Diamond Age’s matter compilers to Star Trek’s replicators, the future promises the perfect cup of Earl Grey without waiting to heat the water. Scientists working at the cutting-edge of 3D printing technology (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) will discuss the real future possibilities of this science fiction trope. Perhaps we are a long way off from printing an entire being like in The Fifth Element, but 3D printing organs and tissues for transplant is already under development. Astronauts and soldiers might not be ordering their favorite tea out of hydrogen atoms, but field-printed meals ready to eat (MREs) customized to a warfighter's nutritional needs by way of a wearable sensor is already on the horizon. 

Universal Translator: Linguistics in Science Fiction

Language shapes society and civilization. It has a profound impact on how people view and describe themselves, but also serves as a barrier to understanding one another. In science fiction, this barrier often seems nonexistent thanks to miraculous technologies like the Universal Translator. As creators try to improve the realism of their works, they often do so by crafting unique—and real—languages to lend gravity to the otherworldliness of their creations. Why would Klingons speak English to one another in private? Or Tolkien’s Elves for that matter? Moreover, languages today are changing at an increasing rate thanks to the merging of cultures, the proliferation of the Internet, and new technologies breaking down communication barriers. What does the future hold for the world’s modern languages? Are we all heading towards Federation Standard? Join this panel to learn the funny and insightful lessons of what goes into crafting fictional languages, the impacts these languages have on their source material and the real world, and where modern communication is heading over the next few decades and centuries.

Colonization and Beyond: The Fiction and Science of Exoplanets and What It Would Really Take to Get There

We've now discovered over 1,000 exoplanets orbiting other stars, but can we ever reach them? This panel will explore the differences between science fiction's portrayal of interstellar travel with the reality of such a journey. Speculative concepts for humanity’s eventual settlement of distant planets have been the stuff of science fiction for over a century. But in the last few years NASA’s Kepler space telescope has discovered over 1,000 real planets around other stars (exoplanets). How has science fiction addressed exoplanets, and what technology—now in place or still fictional—will get us to those worlds some day? 

Time Travel

Who among us hasn't wanted to travel back in time in their own Delorean or TARDIS? Would the butterfly effect hold true? Could you prevent your own birth? Ponder the paradoxes of time travel and the science that may propel us forward... or back. 

Mars in Science Fiction

The Red Planet has fascinated many a science fiction writer. The word 'Martian' has long identified alien life. How have modern exploration and imaging influenced authors' interpretations of Mars? Will human exploration someday mirror science fiction? Where do the Mars of the imagination and the Mars of science intersect?

 Thistledown, Spacecraft, & Artificial Worlds

Our planet faces a deadly threat. To survive, civilization must thwart or escape disaster. Where will we go? Science fiction authors answer these questions by imagining vast technological achievements, the development of artificial worlds or spacecraft that propel mankind into the stars. Is this our future? Moderated by the author of Eon, Greg Bear

 Educator's Forum

Science fiction connects science, technology, and literature; a combination ideal for a classroom! How can you incorporate science fiction into your teaching? A panel of educators will share their lessons and experiences developing science fiction based curriculum, while aligning with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Inspire the next generation of science fiction fans!

 Video Games and VR

What's real? What's true? It's something we've asked ourselves since Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Is there a limit to our dreams anymore? Maybe only physical reality. Video games are becoming more realistic with every release. Higher quality graphics and interactivity trick the brain into muddling its perception of reality from game. Now, thanks to miniaturization and other technological advances, video reality has gone from a fun but laughable contraption to a pair of fancy goggles that can be worn anywhere and create any world for you. Still, we have a long way to go until we can step into Star Trek's holodeck, but just how long? This panel will explore the state of the art and what lies in store for the next century of virtual reality.


The non-profit Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is our ear on the sky. Popularized by Carl Sagan, the question remains when--if ever--we'll hear the telltale signals of alien life. Then there's the Fermi Paradox, which could explain why we haven't heard from anyone and might never. And yet, NASA's telescopes continue to image new worlds and identify potential habitats within our own solar system. If the oceans of Europa and Enceladus can harbor life, then why can't even one of the trillions and trillions of stars in the Universe also give rise to life? Our telescopes are becoming ever more powerful, and it is NASA's hope to directly image an exoplanet in the next couple of decades. Learn about the people and science behind our search for extraterrestrial life, what such life could be like, and how first contact with an intelligence species would affect humanity. 

Star Trek 50 Years Later and its Impact on Space Exploration

In the early 1970s, Star Trek fans wrote tens of thousands of letters to the White House asking the Administration to name NASA’s new prototype Space Shuttle “Enterprise." Star Trek went off the air in 1969, but its fans kept busy and the series thrived and gained new converts in syndication. On September 17, 1976, NASA—accompanied by the most famous crew in Starfleet history—unveiled their newest addition to its fleet for the post-Apollo era: the Space Shuttle Enterprise. Fast forward 39 years to see Italian astronaut Samantha Christoforetti wearing a Starfleet uniform (circa Voyager) onboard the most audacious human engineering project ever: the International Space Station, while research on warp drive captivates the zeitgeist. Explore the relationship between Star Trek and space exploration with this panel as we hear the experiences from the heroes of screen and space, and learn about what lies in store.
The Human Adventure is just beginning.

Science of Star Trek

The moment we saw that vessel first whoosh past the screen in 1966, we all wanted to know where it was going and dreamt of flying through the stars as we did between cities. Unlike so many other science fiction programs, however, Star Trek was premised on the idea of being as faithful to scientific precepts as possible—with the requisite dash of creative license. As a result, it predicted many of the technological advancements we take for granted today—like ubiquitous computing and cellphones—while also showing us what a civilization with faster-than-light travel can achieve. Learn about the inner workings of the Star Trek universe and its amazing gadgets, and how close we are to turning what remains of the series' scifi tech into reality.

Ambient Intelligence in the Museum of Science Fiction

Over the past decade, intelligent systems have slowly entered the mainstream, offering home environment controls that learn and automatically adjust to meet personal needs.  Ambient intelligence arose from several research areas involving pervasive networks, ubiquitous computing, context awareness, and human-centric computer interaction design. Because it may provide immersive and personalized, context-aware experience that serves to encourage learning and participation, the Museum of Science Fiction in Washington, DC, hopes to offer a showcase for ambient intelligence. By taking smart architecture a little further to create an interactive, transformative, and educational experience for visitors, new learning opportunities tailored to a specific person’s interests will be a common occurrence.

Nanotechnology and the Final Frontier

The final frontier often describes an area that humans have yet to fully explore. Space, the capacity of the human brain, convergence, and the oceans are all popular topics in science fiction because the still hold vast, unknown possibility. Nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers. This enabling technology may permit us to finally tap the potential of all those frontiers; allowing for the expansion of the human species and the human mind.

Future of Travel / Space Tourism

Want to leave Earth behind? You’re not alone. With each new advance in technology, Earth grows smaller as humans find faster ways to communicate and travel. Companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace provide opportunities for the wealthy to escape the Earth's atmosphere, and now intrepid companies, including SpaceX, are making commercially-available space travel a more affordable possibility for the rest of humanity. Join us for an exploration of the challenges and exciting opportunities that await us among the stars!

Managing and Preserving Collections

You’ve spent years refining your personal collections, be they of books, comics, toys, models, records, or robots, but how should you take care of them? What’s the best way to keep track of every item in your special collection? Join expert panelists for a discussion of the best collection management and preservation methods available today.

Mythgard / Science Fantasy: Crossing the bridge with Clarke's Third Law

According to Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Speculative fiction mixes science and fantasy, blending technology and magic until it is difficult to determine where one begins and the other ends. If Thor’s hammer is an example of highly-advanced Asgardian technology, is the Force more than just a mystical energy field? Can science fiction feature both robots and magic? Where do we draw the line between fantasy and science fiction?

IBM Watson: How cognitive computing is turning science fiction into reality
Rules based engines and decision trees have pushed us to the moon - but where will a different approach lead us?  For over 50 years, machines have spoken with humans in a systematic approach.    IBM's Watson is breaking barriers in how machines can interpret human language and how humans can operate in complex fields.  Join this panel discussion to find out how cognitive computing experts are solving some of the world's most difficult problems and making science fiction a reality.