Everybody knows the robot code:
A good robot protects humans.
A bad robot doesn’t. But he’ll get what’s coming to him in Act II.
This is a concept often followed in science fiction and set in motion long before you got your mom that automated vacuum cleaner that strolls along the carpet, hitting furniture and frightening the cat.
We owe our sense of robot morality to Isaac Asimov, who laid down the Three Laws of Robotics, which science fiction has used and adapted ever since. Robots dating back to Robby who appeared in “Forbidden Planet” in the 1950s and those as new as Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and the robots in “Astro Boy” follow some form of these laws.
But Asimov did more than lay down a logical set of guidelines for fictional characters. The prolific American scientist and writer (1920-1992), who wrote the science-fiction classic “I, Robot,” was able to explain real science in a way the average person could understand and engaged a generation in a discussion about what is possible that is still going on today.
At West Virginia University, where sciences of all sorts seek to discover whether Einstein’s relativity was right, what are the effects of injuries on athletes, how coal can be cleaned and_ in the case of forensics_ whodunit, it fits that the complete works of one of science’s most imaginative advocates is housed at the WVU Libraries.
Over several years and two large donations, WVU has collected nearly 600 books by Asimov, some earlier editions signed by the author, and related memorabilia. It is the largest known Asimov collection in the world.
Aside from his children’s books explaining the finer points of dinosaurs, Antarctica and lasers, and his vast repertoire of fiction, the collection includes vinyl records_ at least one narrated by the author and another by William Shatner, an Isaac Asimov quiz card game, video adaptations of his work and posters.
To celebrate Asimov’s work and WVU’s collection, the University is hosting an Isaac Asimov Day on Oct. 26 that includes a tour of the collection at 6 p.m., to begin at the Mountainlair. Visitors will be able to view up to 100 of his books at an exhibit and learn more about the author and his works.
Following the tours will be a lecture by James Gunn on “Isaac Asimov: Science Fiction to Science Fact,” part of the 2010 David C. Hardesty Jr. Festival of Ideas. His presentation will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Mountainlair ballrooms.
Gunn is director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction and professor emeritus of English at the University of Kansas. A book signing will follow the lecture, where Gunn will be joined by Chris McKitterick, associate director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction.
Both events are free and open to the public. Reservations are required for the tour.
Molly Simis is a WVU senior who is the coordinator of the Isaac Asimov Day and an accompanying science communicators’ conference in April. She said the evening in October will be a preview of the conference, which will work to improve the link between scientists and the communicators who strive to explain their work. The April event will include another Festival of Ideas speaker.
“One of our goals is to talk about issues from the journalistic perspective when dealing with scientists and the science perspective when dealing with journalists,” Simis said.
The library tours on Oct. 26 serve to increase awareness about WVU’s Asimov collection as well as the timely issues surrounding science, said Simis, who is an environmental geoscience and biology major.
“I think one of the most interesting things that comes out of science fiction is stating where the line is drawn – what makes this fiction and could it ever be science fact?” she said.
Jay Cole, interim chief of staff to WVU President James P. Clements, is part of the effort to recognize WVU’s Asimov collection and the importance of science communication.
“When I was in junior high school, I read ‘Asimov on Astronomy,’ and I was hooked,” Cole said. “After that, I read everything by him I could find, and I was continually amazed by the breadth of his non-fiction work, from science to Shakespeare. I also love his science fiction, especially his short stories such as ‘Nightfall.’”
Asimov, Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould were America’s chief science teachers in the latter half of the 20th Century, Cole said, making complex ideas understandable and making science popular.
But, Cole said, the importance of communicating effectively about science is not just about catching the public’s interest. Communication is an important element in current scientific discussions and an area in which WVU has an important role.
“The symposium on communicating science that we are planning for the spring is intended to demonstrate the importance of communicating science effectively at a time when so many complex scientific issues, from climate change to stem cell research, are being debated and decided by policymakers and the public,” Cole said. “These debates and decisions need to be informed by scientific data and analysis. As a land-grant, research University, WVU has a special role to play in making sure that this happens.”
Asimov and WVU
The Asimov collection itself was one of those things that just happened, said Harold Forbes, curator of the rare books collection at WVU Libraries.
Asimov, who was a scientist at Boston University, has no known ties to WVU, except alumnus Larry Shaver, a fan of his works who pursued as many titles as he could until he had acquired nearly all of Asimov’s books, most of them first editions.
Shaver, of Oklahoma City, Okla., offered his collection to the WVU Libraries and made his alma mater the unlikely home to Asimov’s works. Word spread and Carlos Patterson, of Sacramento, Calif., offered his duplicate titles and has arranged for WVU Libraries to receive his entire Asimov collection.
Others with fewer books to donate have found WVU’s Asimov collection online and donated two or three books, Forbes said. Both Shaver and Patterson have accepted invitations to attend the tours of the Asimov collection.
To register for the tours, go online http://universityevents.wvu.edu/asimovexperience2010
The collection can be found online at: http://www.libraries.wvu.edu/exhibits/asimov/
By Diana Mazzella
WVU University Relations/News
CONTACT: WVU University Relations/News
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