Finding the SCI in Dragon Con 2014

by Glenn Robelen

Ariel WaldmanIt’s Thursday, and Labor Day Weekend 2014 is less than 24 hours away. I am in the Atlanta Westin Hotel, riding down on a full elevator, heading to the lobby. Joining me are a few Star Trek characters, a couple of Science Fiction personas I didn’t know how to describe and a zombie. In the back of the elevator car, a family visiting for the weekend, who are entertainingly perplexed by the transformed folks traversing along side them. A guy in his late teens, a member of the family, blurts out, “What’s going on this weekend?” After a couple of moments of silence, I answer, “It’s DragonCon.” I further explain, “It’s a Sci-Fi convention, similar to ComicCon, with a significant influence of Dungeons and Dragons.” Upon reaching the lobby of the hotel, one of the Star Trek characters worked his way through the crowd, approached me, and said “The Dragon in Dragon Con represents much more than the game. It is a full Sci-Fi fantasy experience.” I have always known DragonCon as an extreme multi-sensory experience, but as I stood corrected, it hit me right then that I needed to reevaluate new meanings for the “Con”. I was brought to the fundamental question – what is the science that makes the science fiction fantasy worlds possible?

Over the years, DragonCon has always been defined as a fantasy getaway, to experience panel discussions with actors, writers, special effects directors, costumers and any other groups that supports the production of Sci-Fi based stories and games. Let’s not forget the dynamic costumes and cosplay, but that is a topic covered in a write-up by itself. In evaluating all of this, I realized I needed to find the Science and theories of Quantum Physics and Multiverses that set the premises of Science Fiction.

Stephanie OsbornAnybody who has been to DragonCon will tell you, with the hundreds of panels and discussions it’s a bit of a daunting task to identify the sessions to participate. Although sessions are all categorized by track, each session may only be linked to a single track; attempting to create a schedule across multiple tracks is enough to make anybody lose their patience, if not their mind. That said, it is possible to create your own theme to follow with significant tenacity, mine being Quantum Physics and Time Travel. The actuality of the situation was I had to jump from the Science Track to the  Space Track, to the Alternate History Track, and back to the Science Track to find the sessions to get my answers. As I began attending these sessions, I soon became aware that when talking about Time Travel and Quantum Physics, EVERYTHING is theoretical. Nothing is ever stated as fact, as research inference can change day to day, as new research results are uncovered. Even the simple concepts taken for granted, such as gravity, the speed of light, etc., will be phrased in terms of theories.

My first stop, the panel discussion Practical Time Travel. It was a perfect introduction to the topics of Time Travel and Multiverses, Wormholes and Blackholes. The conversation of the session was based on not only parallel universes, but also universes that have up to 12 dimensions. A three dimensional model is represented by the variables X, Y, Z and T (time.) In a nutshell, we as humans, don’t have the overt senses to innately relate to more than the three dimensions. With the limitations of the human body, we must go beyond base comprehension and imagination of what the human body can sense and interpret. Additional panels and discussions focused on this point providing richer insight to theorems and philosophies.

McKinnonStephanie Osborn, a former NASA Scientist and a current Novelist, brought to the discussion a series of slides outlining many scientific explanations of popular theories. She touched upon the Higgs boson (the God Particle) research in modeling our universe, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in defining changes in time measurement in relation to space, Lorentzian Manifolds (wormholes) and Tipler Cylinders as possible theories of time travel models and multiverse theories of Cosmic String and M-Theory to describe theories of time traversing to specified destinations. Osborne is a renowned writer who applies her advanced training in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Mathematics to create a series of Cosmological Mysteries. Her uncanny ability to explain the models of time travel possibilities, based on actual NASA scientific research and accepted hypotheses, gave a true sense of validation, as she strives to do in all of her writing.

Also in the panel was Nicole Gugliucci, PhD, who enlightened the crowd with theories related to the Universe’s cosmic existence and evolution since its Big Bang origin. Gugliucci focuses her research on low radio frequencies emitted from our galaxy and galaxies beyond. Focused on the hypothesis that low frequency radio telescopes can identify hydrogen from the early universe, the interpretation of this data used to derive further theories for research. She contributed significantly to the conversation, specifically when discussing quasars and black holes.

GugliucciIn her later panel, Chasing the Signal: Secrets of the First Galaxies, Gugliucci explained the utilization of an array of up to 32 low frequency radio telescope strategically plotted in proximity to each other (low farms), allowing her and her research team to gather data and create colorful models of the universe, based on the existence Hydrogen atoms. All of this mind bending data feeds into her understanding of Intense Universe Inflation and the belief that the universe holds many secrets, with many more discoveries to be made.

Tying this multitude of scientific theories together was the woman who claims to have a Masters in Disasters, Mika McKinnon. McKinnon has educational training in Physics and Geological Physics, McKinnon is a renowned Science Consultant to many movies and television series, as well as respected writer for and Physics Today. In addition to participating in the panel of Practical Time Travel,  she was a panelist in Science is Stranger than Fiction (Science Track) and The Best News that Wasn’t (Space Track.)

Matthew P. LowryHer dynamic energy, no pun intended, set a precedent of excitement in explaining the possibilities of Physics, Cosmology, and Time Travel, while presenting hard scientific data in an everyday conversational style. McKinnon has served as a consultant to Stargate and numerous other series, pilots and big screen endeavors, yet still put forth a playful, though cerebral explanation of Time and Physics Theories. Her favorite theory seemed to be about time travel and cloning from one time orientation to another. In another theory she explained time travel as speeding through space — first eluded to in Einstein’s theory of relativity, Time Dilation — in essence, racing through time to get to the future. Like all the panelists, McKinnon expressed uncertainty about traveling to the past, agreeing that while mathematically possible, there are as yet no universally accepted theories of how to do it.

I had the opportunity to sit down with McKinnon and get her thoughts on the definition of Time, Time Travel and Multiverses. Look out for the video interview, where she goes into an everyday description of these theories, coming soon to the Target Audience Magazine site.

Annalee NewitzAs if all this were not mind blowing enough, there was the presentation Staring into the Multiverse, given by Matthew P. Lowry, the Skeptical Physics Professor. An explanation of advanced telescopes and spectra lines (color waves) in support of the Big Bang, Quantum Foam and Intense Universe Inflation began the conversation, with the real fun still to come. It all became much more enriching when Lowry began dabbling in the theories of Multiverses, and specifically Tegmark’s four level theory of Multiverses. The basic premise of the theory — which is mathematically supported– is that multiple universes exist and that new universes are created with every decision and all possible outcomes. The best example of this theory would be paradoxical question of Schrödinger’s cat. A cat is in a closed box. There is an equal chance the cat has been poisoned within the box, based on chance circumstances. To all outside the closed box, the cat is in both a state of living and a state of being dead. Tegmark claimed two independent universes would exist for each state of the cat. Could you imagine if a person had a choice of 17 hair products to use in the morning, and the mathematical possibilities of all 17? I make this statement in jest to exemplify the enormity of the theory, where mathematical reasoning often leads to philosophical reasoning in our struggle to conceptualize the mind blowing rationale of the dimensions we don’t see, the universes that may or may not exist and the application to our own lives.

Todd Roberts (Hampson)With all of this stated, Physics, along with the study of Life, Astronomical, Chemical and Earth Sciences, provides infinite possibilities of existence based on mathematical probabilities and modeling. Quantum Physics takes these disciplines further, creating possible alternate universes and new realities that are the makings of incredible fantasy world for games, movies and many other story telling media. The measurement of time is a constant discussion in the world of Theoretical Physics, and is inseparable from the definition of Spatial Dimension, a term of questionable accuracy given the dimension may be based on plane that is not spatial at all. I would not be surprised if Quantum Physicists derives a dimension that we will never see or feel. (Maybe the concept of dark energy falls into this category?)

With recent advancements of CERN and recent discoveries regarding Particle Acceleration, there are so many more possibilities realized within our universe. Who is to say that all of these fantasy worlds are actually fantasy? Will we someday be able to clone ourselves to different points of time, or maybe traverse through a wormhole to get to another century? Not only do these questions fuel the creativity of the Science Fiction supporting DragonCon, they open the doors of understanding the universe potential while giving insight to the Human Race.


The following are DragonCon Panel Discussions, with participating panelists, referenced in this article:


Practical Time Travel – Alternate History

Dr. Nicole Gugliucci

Mika McKinnon

Stephanie Osborn

Harry Turtledove

Dr. Scott Vigué


The Myth and Realities of Steam Power – Alternate History

Jonathan Strickland

Dr. Scott Vigué


Chasing the Signal: Secrets of the First Galaxies – Science

Dr. Nicole Gugliucci


Science is Stranger than Fiction – Science

Mika McKinnon

Annalee Newitz

Tedd Roberts

David Shiffman

Ariel Waldman


Staring into the Multiverse – Science

Matthew P Lowry – Physics Instructor


The Best News that Wasn’t – Space

Mika McKinnon

Roy Kilgard


Creating Great Science Non-Fiction – Science

Fraser Cain

Liz Heinecke

Lee Johnson

Annalee Newitz