Professor Duke uses' Star Trek & # 39; to teach science


DURHAM – Have you wondered how Captain America survived a suspended animation, if great apes could become as big as King Kong and why so many aliens in "Star Trek" had a humanoid appearance?

That's what kind of questions arises Mohamed Noor, professor of biology at Duke University, using science fiction to motivate people to learn more about science. Noor expanded his message with his recently published book, "Long Live and Grow: What Star Trek Can Teach Us about Evolution, Genetics and Life on Other Worlds".

"There are a lot of science fiction fans," Noor said in an interview. "Many of these science fiction fans are interested in science, but perhaps they have not been engaged in their standard biology classes or even in their nature programs, and so on.

"The goal of my courses and my book" Live Long and Evolve "is to try to catch people who are already interested in science fiction and to show them a lot of true science, they can learn using science fiction ".

Noor, 47, is an award-winning scientist in evolutionary genetics who will become dean of natural sciences at the Trinity College of Art and Sciences at Duke University in July. He lives in Durham after joining Duke in 2005.

But Noor is also a Star Trek fan who has always been inspired by a 2014 roundtable at Dragon Con, a sci-fi convention bringing together 80,000 fans in Atlanta each September. Noor heard Eric Spana, an associate professor of biology at Duke, talk about the science behind the popular video game "Mass Effect".

"The whole concept is stupid and takes fantasy and science fiction seriously," Spana said in an interview. "But it's a great way to learn, a great way to teach … Bah humbug for the naysayers."

Spana's speech prompted Noor to speak at various science fiction conventions on genetics and evolution. To make the subject more accessible, Noor draws examples of shows such as "Star Trek", which he praises for having appealed to scientific advisers.

Noor and Spana then spoke at panel discussions on topics such as "Star Trek" or "Star Wars". So when Duke asked Noor to teach an accessible class all week during spring break, he asked Spana to teach him.

The result was "Popular Biology of Television and Popular Sci-Fi Films", where Noor and Spana have, during the last two spring holidays, challenged students to find explanations. plausible to some of the implausible things seen on the screen.

"The purpose of the class and the book is not to criticize science fiction," Noor said. "We know it's fiction." Of course, what happens here would not happen in real life.

"The goal is simply to have a starting point for testing hypotheses, exploring questions and learning what could make something possible."

Alina Xiao, a 20-year-old sophomore, said she took a course at Duke.

"It really upset me when I had the opportunity to take this course, not for credit, but for fun," Xiao said. "I'm also a big fan of science fiction, and it was the perfect combination."

Xiao fondly remembers class discussions about how Davy Jones of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie franchise could survive after engraving his heart in his chest. She said the class had helped her think outside the box.

One of the best parts of the class for Lillian Dukes, a 20-year-old second-year Duke student, was to point out that there was no right or wrong answer. Dukes said the class had allowed students to take pleasure in learning for the pleasure of learning, while answering questions such as how Black Panther could control his powers.

"Ever since I've been to Duke, I've realized that the widespread fear of being wrong is preventing students from interacting fully in class and learning," said Dukes. "It's very easy to get caught up in memorizing a textbook to get good grades.

"In this class, however, everyone's ideas have been valued fairly and this has really created a collaborative environment."

Noor and Spana bring their popular class back to spring break. But Noor will also teach a semester course, starting in January, using "Live Long And Evolve" as a textbook.

"The course is not about" Star Trek, "Noor said." The course is about genetics and evolution. But he uses Star Trek as a pathway. "

Now, Noor is not just a fan of "Star Trek", he has had the opportunity to meet some of the actors of the long chain TV and cinema. He became friends with the actor "Star Trek: Voyager," Garrett Wang, who made a surprise visit to this year's Spring class. Noor announced that he would bring more special guests in 2019.

"There are people who are super nice and really fun and friendly and others who do not want to know their fans," Noor said. "But overall, it's fun.

"It's fun to see the people I've seen happen all the time on my TV, see them as a real person who goes to the grocery store and does the same thing as me."