Interview: Hear about the Future Telling Webinars from NIU STEM Read Director Gillian King-Cargile

By Beth Schewe, Sci fi lover, general book nerd and writer for NIU STEAM

Beth Schewe: So, tell me about Future Telling Virtual Webinars, on July 22, August 19 and September 23 from Northern Illinois University.

Gillian King-Cargile: Future Telling is a brand-new conference that is a partnership between STEM Read, in the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, and the NIU Libraries. With the current pandemic, we switched from an in-person conference to a series of three webinars, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on July 22, August 19 and September 23. Registration is live at go.niu.edu/futuretelling.

BS: How will the online format change the conference?

GKC: Although we’re sad not to be able to meet in person, the online format actually allows for some exciting opportunities. We’re able to bring in authors and expert speakers who otherwise might not be able to make it here in person, and we’re able to welcome writers, librarians and educators from all over the country for a very reasonable price.

BS: Tell me more about the content of the webinars.

GKC: The idea is that we are bringing together STEM experts and writers of all kinds – but especially science fiction writers – to collaborate and share ideas. What is cutting edge in science research? What is cutting edge in science fiction? And how can those two groups learn from each other? How can we get better science in our fiction and more creativity in our science?

We have an awesome lineup of writers as well as STEM experts from both Northern Illinois University and from our partners at Fermilab and Argonne National Lab.

BS: How did you get the idea for this conference?

GKC: This grew out of an event that STEM Read did at Argonne National Lab where we were interested in how science fiction influenced actual scientists and STEM experts. We looked at everything from how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein influenced the inventor of the pacemaker to how drawings from Wile E. Coyote cartoons influenced rocket designs. There’s this really cool history of different pop culture and science fiction concepts making their way into real science as people who enjoy pop culture think about the ideas and incorporate them into their own research. So we wanted to be intentional about bringing these two world together.

BS: So which speakers are confirmed so far?

GKC: We’re really excited to welcome some very cool sci fi authors and editors, including Maurice Broaddus, Lynne M. Thomas, Mary Robinette Kowal, M.T. Anderson and S.L. Huang. We’re also thrilled to hear from historian Valarie Garver from NIU, neuroscientist Dr. Bobby Kasthuri, from Argonne National Lab, and physicist Rebecca C. Thompson, Ph.D., from Fermilab.

BS: Who would enjoy and benefit from this webinar series?

GKC: Writers, librarians, teachers, scientists and science enthusiasts would all appreciate these webinars. The great thing about this series is that it will be fun and informative for a wide audience, including writers who focus on different ages of readers and different genres, science appreciators who are interested in and passionate about science and science fiction, and teachers of reading, writing or science.

BS: What is your main goal with this conference?

GKC: The goal is really that all fiction can be more informed by good science. And all of us can be more creative and collaborative. So it doesn’t apply only if you’re writing about people on Planet X or the future of space travel. You could just have a realistic story that has technology in it and want to get that technology right. This is your chance to talk to the people who are writing those algorithms that are changing the way we live right now.

BS: Is registration open, and how much?

GKC: Registration is open now at go.niu.edu/futuretelling. The cost is $99 for the full series. You’ll get access to the online community and can watch the events live or view the recordings after.