Ali Guler / Biology

When I was eight years old, a newspaper article outlining why “genetic engineers” will be one of the most sought after professions of the future captured my imagination. Although most of the statements in that article did not stand the test of time, it had an indelible influence on my life: I am the principle investigator of a basic science laboratory that performs genetic engineering every day. Many people imagine that the work of real-life scientists is similar to what they read or watch in science fiction books or movies. Not only is this quite far from the truth, these misrepresentations distort public opinion on the utility of scientific research which is not performed at a lightning-fast pace. The scientific method is meticulous and groundbreaking, and discoveries are made on the back of basic research performed over decades.

More than ever, it is critical for the public to be well-informed about the scientific method and distinguish between science and science fiction. This requires easy access to scientific knowledge and the ability to sift through overwhelming amounts of information in the Digital Age. I design courses so that students learn the language of science, providing them the foundation to understand and evaluate publicized biomedical research. In my classes, students learn how a bioluminescent protein from jellyfish had one of the biggest impacts on basic science research or what a Himalayan pond fish has to do with research into the origins of psychiatric disorders. We cover the role of innovative state-of-the-art methods in biomedical research in the development of revolutionary disease cures, treatments and diagnostics.

My Dream Idea is to create a forum for STEM and non-STEM majors to informally discuss the perception and interpretation of science presented in popular culture. Science fiction tends to be improbable science made possible in the media. Is the underlying science presented in the imaginary worlds even possible, or is our scientific knowledge well behind our imagination? Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton, seemed improbable when I read it 25 years ago; are we closer to this science fiction dream today? Will the concept of genetic prejudice from Gattaca become a reality in our lifetime? How realistic is the movie “Outbreak”? Would the rogue actions of someone like Colonel Sam Daniels, Dustin Hoffman’s character, save millions of lives if we were faced with the rapid spread of an unknown disease today? How far are modern technologies from making these imagined worlds possible?

To address these questions and more, I plan to lead dinner/small bite discussion forums, in which seven STEM and seven non-STEM majors will discuss the science behind recently published science fiction books and movies. I will purchase the books for the students or take them to the movie that will be discussed in the following dinner meeting. I hope these forums will help generate informed lawyers, engineers and politicians who make educated judgments about scientific progress and provide them with the necessary tools to better understand how and what basic scientific research provides to our community.



15 x 3 Dinners: $1,350

15 x 3 Books: $900

15 x 3 Movie Tickets, drinks and popcorn: $750

Total: $3,000