New course explores the science behind science fiction

The class will explore the science behind your favourite sci-fi characters. - Anosha Ashfaq

SFU is offering a new course geared towards non-science students looking to fulfill their breadth requirements.

The department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MBB) has introduced a new breadth science course, BISC 111: Mutants and Monsters — Cell and Molecular Biology in Science Fiction, to the coming Fall semester.

The syllabus aims to analyze and explain the scientific elements of science fiction, and to train students to recognize when a story becomes more far-fetched than based in science.

The course designer and instructor Irina Kovalyova has been teaching in SFU’s MBB department for the past 12 years.

Kovalyova considers herself a pioneer in this realm. She is a senior lecturer by day and a writer during her spare time. She told The Peak that she has always been interested in bringing the scientific and fantastical worlds together and she says it’s her mission to make this course convey science that is relevant to students’ daily lives.

One challenge that Kovalyova foresees will be to make the science component of the course accessible and yet substantial. Students will be learning about cloning, bioterrorism, epidemic outbreaks like Ebola, mutations, and DNA sequencing, among others.

Students in the course will be reading H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau and Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, and submitting written responses to their readings along the way. Kovalyova explained that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein did not make the reading list for this course because it did not have enough scientific substance to it.

Kovalyova will be looking at each text and encouraging the students to differentiate between who is a ‘mutant’ and who is a ‘monster.’ She added, “Oftentimes, we are the monsters.”  She will encourage her students to pick out scientific inconsistencies in all the texts.

The course asks students to compose a short story as a final project. The short science fiction story must be informed and scientifically plausible, as well as integrating some aspects of the course content.

Kovalyova hopes that by the end of the course, her students “will be able to distinguish between science fiction that is plausible and that which is not.”