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SDCC 2020: The Science of Back to the Future

While the panel was advertised with the leading line "Flux Capacitor, hoverboards, flying cars, and time travel," only time travel was discussed, and the real focus was on promoting the new “Back to the Future” story out of IDW that crosses over with the Transformers.

Basically, they are taking a movie trilogy that I love and joining it to a toy story film series where I don't love the films, but I do love the toys (and some inspired cosplaying). The creative team behind "Back to the Future" and "Transformers" (editor-in-chief John Barber who was a writer for "Back to the Future" and "Transformers," Cavan Scott who is the writer of the new "Back to the Future" series and other pop culture classics, and artist Juan Samu, who has drawn for "Transformers") was on board for the fiction while the Fleet Science Center provided some scientists (Dr. Lisa Will, the center's resident astronomer, who is also a professor of physics and astronomy at San Diego City College, and Saura Naderi, who is outreach director at the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute at UC San Diego and an engineer and robot builder). The panel was moderated by Andrea Decker of the Fleet Science Center. 

Science Fiction

If you're writing about time travel you probably don't need to talk to a scientist. Scott said he deals with it "more as a logic problem.” Barber worked on "Back to the Future" which "has its own established physics of how time travel works." It's important to know your universe whether it be the history of Cybertron or the science of Doc Brown (Great Scott!). 

Scott used to be a technology and science writer, so he knows how to do research but cautions against "going down a rabbit hole" of endless science. 

Barber has "a comic book writer’s knowledge" of science but has two back-ups: a wife who is a real scientist working with cancer and a high school friend who is a physicist and enjoys crazy physics questions.

The "Back to the Future" and "Transformers" crossover starts at the end of the first "Back to the Future" movie. The time machine with Doc Brown disappears and suddenly giant robots appear. The time machine returns, but transforms into an Autobot: Gigawatt, an Autobot scientist who is searching for Doc Brown. 

The Real Science

Will noted that science fiction was the source of her first huge disappointment when she learned that the planet Vulcan didn't exist. As for time travel, you can only go into the future and you'll be further into the future at the end of this sentence than you were at the beginning. Don't hate me for that; a scientist said it. 

Space travel is another problem. Will said that it took New Horizon from 2006 to 2015 to get to Pluto (which may or may not be a planet depending on which side you're on). It still takes less than a year to get to Mars without a person (The Mars Rover launches later this month and should reach Mars in late winter of next year). Earthling science hasn't gotten to warp speed and scientists don't know if black holes can jump you across the universe.  

The really cool science comes if you do go down a rabbit hole. Early on in the video (4:34), Naderi gives cosplay lovers a mind-blowing moment when she shows how engineering can make cosplay magic—a dress with tentacles. "I built this because I was a lonely kid. It forces people to hug me," Naderi explained. That might get awkward, but it illustrates that "The only difference between science fiction and reality is time." At the end of the panel, she noted, "I think engineering is another medium to create and artists are engineers and in engineers, artists."

Jumping further down the rabbit hole, you can see that science meeting art might not get you a hoverboard, but Naderi teaches young scientists to make hats that have moving parts. 

While I'm not sure I'll love "Transformers" infiltrating my beloved "Back to the Future," what's not to love about hats with moving parts? 

(Full disclosure: I have more than a dozen hats, but none of them have moving parts ... yet). 

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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