On & Off Campus Blog

When universes collide
When universes collide
Sophie Chadha '21


When most little kids say they want to be an astronaut, they usually aren't thinking about the book they could write when they get back to Earth. But that was precisely my first thought about potentially voyaging into the great unknown of space.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, my interest in astronomy developed a bit later than others. My closest friend in elementary school formed a plan during our first sleepover to bring water to the moon and start a new civilization there. The mission sounded cool. I told her I was definitely on board, but I still pretty much saw the moon as a small white circle shining through my curtains at night.

Today, I am fascinated with the intersection of neuroscience, astronomy, and literature, my three principal passions. Neuroscience and astronomy provide invaluable perspectives through which we can improve our understanding of why humans think and act the way we do and contextualize those behaviors in a broader sphere. Looking inside the human brain and looking back at Earth from space can in turn be extraordinarily helpful in crafting complex, sympathetic characters and realistic social settings.

In addition to providing the perfect platform for getting my ideas down on the page and for learning from my classmates' different styles, the senior fall English elective Fiction Writing has been an amazing opportunity to synthesize my varied interests into literature. My first short story was set in eighteenth-century France, and I ended up spending an entire Saturday researching common French clothes, foods, and idioms from that era. Did you know that an upside-down baguette is a symbol of bad luck in France because it used to be reserved for the executioner? My third story more relevant to this conversation of science and literature; my story was loosely based on astronomers' accounts of life on the International Space Station.

I recently submitted this story to the science fiction category of a writing competition. A required question to enter the category was, "Why are you specifically interested in using science fiction or fantasy themes, compared to more realistic ones?" The question prompted me to reconsider the distinction between the two genres, and I came to the same conclusion I mentioned above; I believe that science can actually help writers improve the realism of their literature. Although my story has an ostensibly sci-fi setting, featuring complex dream simulations and life in space, I use the setting more as a tool to reveal the characters' sense of connection to one another and to earth. For example, gravity and being grounded are important recurring motifs, which add to the theme of finding where one belongs.

So while I haven't had the opportunity—yet—to venture out into the great black void, I hope to continue drawing on my findings in astronomy and in all disciplines I come across to enrich the content of my writing.