Atlanta Science Festival: Frankenstein and the Future of Science

The Atlanta Science Festival brings STEM out of the lab and into the Atlanta community with two weeks of events culminating in the “Exploration Expo” regularly attended by over 18,000 people. ASF was founded in 2014 by a group of Emory staff and faculty, including former chemistry (now ASF!) staff Meisa Salaita and Sarah Peterson and chemistry faculty member David Lynn. Chemistry has sponsored at least one festival event every year. This blog series covers just some of chemistry’s involvement in the 2018 festival.

The classic science fiction novel “Frankenstein”, written by Mary Shelley, is commonly thought of as an entertaining story about a scientist and the monster he creates. While laced with grandeur and fantasy, the novel raises important questions and has ignited conversations about ethics and modern science. In light of its relevance for the world of chemistry and the future of the field, the novel has recently inspired several artistic creations ranging from animations to anthologies.

As part of the Atlanta Science Festival, three Atlanta playwrites explored the themes of the novel in the context of scientific research being conducted here at Emory in “Frankenstein Goes Back to the Lab”. The three animated art pieces, “The Rites of Men” by Edith Freni, “Indian Maeve” by Neeley Gosset, and “A Light Beneath Skin” by Addae Moon, were enjoyed and discussed by ethicists, scientists, and artists. The conversations tackled topics including cloning, evolution, epigenetics, apotheosis, morality, and more.

Similar topics were addressed in a recently published anthology, Frankenstein: How a Monster Became an Icon, the Science and Enduring Allure of Mary Shelley’s Creation. Emory faculty explored the topics of science, society, and philosophy that are woven throughout the book. The anthology, co-edited by Sidney Perkowitz and Eddy Von Mueller, features chapters collected from 17 experts across the country.

One of the featured experts is chemistry’s own David Lynn, who co-wrote a chapter with Jay Goodwin entitled “What Would Mary Shelley Say Today?” “Chemistry professor David Lynn writes about how his own work, to uncover the molecular basis of life, echoes ideas expressed in Frankenstein,” writes Carol Clark, author of the Emory News feature It’s Alive!.

In his chapter, David writes:

“Neither Shelley nor the scientists of her time could have imagined the molecular scale we now understand to be so critical to ultimately designing new forms of life, now within the domain and promise of systems and synthetic biology.”

To read the full It’s Alive! feature, click [here].

To purchase Frankenstein: How a Monster Became an Icon, the Science and Enduring Allure of Mary Shelley’s Creation, click [here].