Easter Physics Lecture

To c or not to c – physics in science fiction writing

a public lecture by

David Wilkinson CPhys

THE INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS (IOP)

Wednesday 1 April 2020

6 pm – 7:20 pm

Newton Lecture Theatre INB0114 in the Isaac Newton building, University of Lincoln

Book a place

Science fiction has long been divided between authors who try to get all the physics right and those who abandon any pretence at considering real-world science at all. This lecture looks at some of those who tried and considers both how well they did and the innovative ideas they have come up with for future physics and technology. Examples including Le-Guin’s quantum-entanglement communications, Asimov’s robots, Reynolds’ consequences of the Twins Paradox and Niven/Pournelle’s use of an Orion propulsion system. Many others are discussed along with some of Wilkinson’s own ideas. And of course, there is the perennial question in space-based future fiction – whether faster-than-light travel is permitted. To have >c or <c? That is the question…


David Wilkinson is a Chartered Physicist and the Institute of Physics’ Regional Manager for the Midlands. David graduated in 2001 from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne with a degree in Physics with Medical Applications. He immediately took a job as a government scientist, working for the then Police Scientific Development Branch of the Home Office. In the less-lethal weaponry team he spent a short time looking at light and sound as distraction and disorientation methods before becoming the project manager for electrical incapacitation devices. In this role he spent the next four years assessing TASERs for use in the UK. He then had a stint in the Volume Crime Technologies team before moving into Drugs detection. He worked in partnership with University College London and St Bartholomew’s Hospital developing a drugs detection system for the fast-parcel environment using low angle X-ray crystallography. In 2007 he moved to become the Institute of Physics’ Regional Manager for the Midlands and achieved chartered physicist status shortly afterwards. In this role he has worked in public outreach, science communication, member interests, political engagement and most recently helped create a physics GirlGuiding badge that was carried out by over 10,000 participants in the first year. He is a Visiting Fellow in Science and Technology at Nottingham Trent University and in 2014 his first novel, “We Bleed the Same” was published and launched at the World Science Fiction Convention. It was short listed for the East Midlands Book Award 2015. His second book, “Under the Shell” was released in 2018.

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