Who hasn’t watched a Star Trek show or movie and noticed Doctor McCoy’s accurate medical diagnosis after waving his hand-held tricorder over someone’s body like a priest giving a blessing? Who could forget McCoy pronouncing modern medicine as barbaric in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home? That’s the same movie where he hands a pill to a sick woman so she can grow a new kidney. I’ve always believed part of Star Trek’s popularity rested on its dazzling peeks into the science of the future.

Unfortunately, back then I thought tricorders would remain a fantasy like flying cars, pills to regrown vital organs, and transporters. For all the cool Star Trek gizmos and gadgets, the one tool I coveted most as a nurse was McCoy’s tricorder. When I gave up hope, Steve Jobs unveiled the first Apple iPhone and re-ignited it. Heck, the iPhone even looked like the tricorder of my imagination.

By now, you writers are wondering what’s with the tricorder story?

Because science as we know it has been upended. By the time a new idea goes mainstream, it’s old, ancient news. Writers have to stay one step ahead of mainstream, and I believe that’s what Gene Roddenberry and Michael Crichton did so well. Where did they get those great ideas from?

Well, I don’t know, but I’ve searched for a great site to follow for science news. I don’t work at a university, and I’m looking for cutting edge hot topics. Aren’t you? If you’re looking for genius-like science to sprinkle into your plot why not consider using science that isn’t mainstream yet, but could be in the next few years if someone twists it? And if you liked the sound of that, I’m guessing your next thought is where do I get this jump ahead, RV?

Page Pounders has provided excellent tips on writing tools and other neat technology, and now it’s giving you a place to monitor for the best-of-the-best new science trends. Without further cliff hanging, the place to check in for the science scoops of the future is the amazing X Prize Foundation. Every time I surf to this site my what if mind goes into hyperdrive.

No, you sleepy heads this isn’t for singers, it’s manna for the best scientific minds in the world. X Prize offers major prize money to the winners. Best of all and why I love them, X Prize has launched a ten million dollar competition to build a real tricorder in the next three years. Home run!

Heck, they even have a Jurassic Park X Prize.

X Prizes are designed to press the best minds in the world to push the boundaries of scientific what if. The contestants don’t rely on fiction, but they give writers a glimpse into a potential scientific break through. You’ll still have to do research for your plot, but you’ll have a grasp of the future possibilities. X Prize delivers results. One example is the competition for the first private spacecraft. That prize was won in 2004 by Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites. His winning design took off from underneath a mother ship just like NASA’s X-15.

X Prizes are offered before mainstream scientific thought believes it’s possible. The men and women accepting the various challenges are usually larger than life mavericks in their fields. All they need is the funding to push their theory into reality. They’re dreamers like our main characters. X Prize sets up the guidelines and the competitions are mind-teasers. It wasn’t hard for me to imagine the legends like Roddenberry and Crichton following the outcomes. Can you?

If you’re a writer that wants to twist a plausible what if science plot into your WIP, you can’t go wrong following the X Prize competitions.

What are your favorite sites to monitor for new developments in science?

Disclaimer:I don’t work for or have investments in X Prize. I just recognize a great site for writers when I see one.

You can also find me at rvdoon.com when I’m not hanging out at Page Pounders.

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2 thoughts on “Science for Writers

  1. I saw this article: “Acoustic cell-sorting chip may lead to cell-phone-sized medical labs” at http://goo.gl/sygt8 and the first thing I thought of was the Star Trek tricorder. The one thing the piece dosen’t tell us is whether the inventors were Trekies. I’m betting they’ve seen an episode or two.

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