Students and faculty at Arizona State University are hoping to invent not only the technology of the future, but also the narrative that accompanies those advances.
“We are creatures of discovery and creatures of creation. That’s what makes us unique,” said ASU President Michael Crow of the university’s capabilities to impact scientific discovery and creation of new technologies.
Last week, ASU formally opened its newest science building, the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, which will house a number of high-tech, flexible laboratories and research centers for the School of Earth Sciences, Security and Defense Systems Initiative and the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.
“There are truths to tell,” Crow said. “There are some people out there who believe that global warming is a hoax — and they are fools. You can’t accept one type of science and reject another. This facility is built so that the truth can be told.”
The seven-story, 293,000-square-foot building contains 166 laboratories, a rooftop laboratory, a 250-seat auditorium, public space, offices, collaboration spaces and meeting rooms. The total project cost $160 million and took more than two years to build.
Inside one of those labs, ASU is building an instrument to be used by NASA to acquire rock, soil and dust samples from an asteroid. OSIRIS-REx, an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer, is part of NASA’s New Frontiers program.
“This new facility will not only offer state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure, but will provide a unique collaborative environment, which is designed to foster team-driven projects in areas such as earth and science exploration, security and defense systems research and renewable energy,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.
The building will also serve to educate and connect middle and high school students to science through a number of interactive displays. Visitors will be able to view meteorite samples and see a full-sized model of the Curiosity Mars rover.
In addition, ASU launched the Center of Science and the Imagination on Sept. 24, which is designed to create a new narrative in science, said Ed Finn, the director of CSI.
“It’s a really broad ambition for our creative future,” Finn said. “We have the power to do incredible things or terrifying things. We’re making more and more challenging choices today.”
When many writers look to the future, they often focus on the dystopian model, of a future run amuck, Crow said.
Instead of creating a narrative in a similar nature to George Orwell’s “1984” or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” where people are trapped by technology, Crow imagines more examples similar to Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon.” Verne imagined a cannon shooting a man to the moon, Crow said. Verne was able to imagine a world 100 years before it ever happened.
“This idea has been something that I’ve put a lot of personal energy into,” Crow said. “I’ve been disappointed that we’ve drifted from challenges like going to the moon.”
To create those conversations, the center has partnered with Intel Corp. to bring the Tomorrow Project to ASU, which will foster conversations about the future, and Hieroglyph, a project that will encourage science fiction writers to create visions using the technologies that are already available or will be soon.
“We have to own the fact that we are all responsible for creating the future,” said Brian David Johnson, futurist at Intel Corp. “We need to change the story people tell themselves about the future they will live in.”
To illustrate the future of technology, Johnson pointed to a quote by Justin Ratther, chief technology officer at Intel Corp.: “Science and technology have progressed to the point where what we build is only constrained by the limits of our own imagination.”
To do that, futurists need to look even farther into the future to create the world that we will one day live in, Johnson said.
For more information on the Center for Science and Imagination, visit csi.asu.edu.
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