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Brave New World is a 6 unit of credit, wholly online general studies course that looks at the science in science fiction. The information provided below gives details of the rationale and course assessment.

Why a Course Like Brave New World?

Brave New World is not a traditional science course! BNW uses science fiction literature, movies and TV series as starting points for conveying the "big picture" of our understanding of science at (close to) the beginning of the 21st century. The concepts of this "big picture" science will be conveyed not with equations but with words illustrated by the media of film and book. We will use the concepts of current science to examine what is and what is not possible in areas such as space travel, time travel, artificial intelligence, robotics and the future evolution of the human race. We have modules on the environment, and on the importance of the wonderful world wide web which connects us all. The internet, mobile phones and social media are changing our world in ways we could never have guessed.

Why use science fiction? Often the greatest contact that the public has with science is through science fiction, particularly movies and TV shows. Films such as Contact, The Dish, Jurassic Park and Independence Day, and television series such as Stargate and the X-Files, have captured the public imagination, providing an excellent starting place for science education. One of the aims of BNW is to impart the ability and knowledge to teach the science covered in this course to others. A particular phenomenon that has acquired a strong cult following is "The Big Bang Theory". This comedy actually contains some quite good physics and science, and we will discuss this in BNW.

Course Delivery

Brave New World is delivered wholly via the Internet, using Moodle. From O Week, once you are enrolled, you will need your ZPASS and UNIPASS to access Moodle, and can login at


If you have any queries about the course you should contact me, Maria Cunningham:


The course is organised into five Modules, of around two weeks.


The five modules are:

1) Understanding the Universe: Astronomy and the physics of space and time.
2) Exploring the Universe: Space travel, space exploration and astrobiology.
3) The Human Web: Computers, communication and the basic conectedness of the human race.
4) The future of planet Earth: the environment, food supply, the future of the Human race.
5) Physics is fun? A look at physics in popular culture (I can't believe I writing this - 15 years ago when I started the course this would have taken about 5 mins!)

Each module will have:

  • On-line lectures (usually 2 or 3) that:
    1. Provide an introduction to the science topics of the module.
    2. Discuss the science commonly encountered in science fiction novels and movies relevant to the current topic.
    3. Discuss the possible (as opposed to the impossible) future developments in the science.
  • An on-line tutorial discussion. The online discussions will be moderated by a tutor; however, the idea is that the much of the discussion and input will come from the student members of the discussion groups in the form of both questions and answers. Students will be marked on their participation in the tutorial discussion groups.
  • The online tutorial discussion will cover:
    1. The Science.
    2. Relevant science fiction novels, movies and TV shows with details of the areas of the science topic that each deals with.
    3. The social and philosophical issues raised by the books and movies relevant to the topic.
  • Associated recommended science fiction movies and TV episodes. These will form a starting point for scientific discussion groups. The movies will provide a basis for introducing a topic rather than being part of the core learning. The recommended movies are drawn from (but not limited to) The Matrix, Event Horizon, Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator II, Blade Runner, Dr Strangelove, The Dish, Avatar. We welcome student suggestions for each topic.
  • Associated recommended science fiction novels. Once again, these novels will form a starting point for scientific discussion groups. Our list of relevant sci fi books is not exhaustive, so we welcome your input as to which novels you think have something to say about the current module.
  • A selection of New Scientist and Scientific American articles, or relevant non-fiction popular science books. Many of these are so well written that they are a pleasure to read!
  • Online quizzes . The online quizzes are open-book, to help you learn the content, and the questions are directly related to the lecture material. It is marked, but you can take the quiz up to twice. Your final mark for the quiz will be the average of both your attempts.


Assessment will be from coursework, quizzes and assignments. The assessment tasks for this course will all be in the form of contributions to Brave New Review, the course's on-line science journal. By the end of this course, we will have produced a review of science, science fiction and the future, as a collaborative effort that we can all enjoy and benefit from.

  • Online Discussions/tutorials (25%). During weeks 3 through to 10 you will need to contribute to the on-line discussions (tutorials). You will be given questions and topics which relate to the lecture for that week to discuss to start the discussion. Our aim is to stimulate thought, so valid contributions include your own questions on the current topic, and also your answers to the questions posed by other students.
  • On-line Quizzes (25%). The quizzes ask you questions about the content of the lectures and are open-book.
  • Major Research Assignment (25%). For this part of the assessment you are required to report/ popular article on an area of science that you find interesting, and your contribution will be included in Brave New Review. An alternative to this is to write a science fiction story that illustrates some of the science that you are interested in. The article should be about 1200 words in length.
  • Critique of Article in Popular Media (15%). You are required to chose one article in Brave New Review (either from the current session or past editions) for which you need to to write a letter in response.
  • Blog posting on scientific topic (10%). This will published on the course website.