Chasing Harry Potter or How To Spur Kids’ Creativity with “What if…”

It was a scene straight out of the books: kids and adults donning cloaks, wielding magic wands, and walking around aimlessly, late-night in a bookstore. Fans have waited years for this moment. This was the day Harry Potter would come to save them yet again from “he who shall not be named.”

This was the scene throughout the wizarding world Saturday night as J.K. Rowling launched her latest, and allegedly final, Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Say what you will about Rowling’s books, there is no denying that Harry Potter is one of the most successful publishing, entertainment, and licensing franchises in history. Rowling’s books have sold millions of copies and inspired eight blockbuster movies and, so far, five theme parks.

So why would Raising Nerd, a site devoted to science, engineering and all things Nerd-tastic, devote time and energy to something that obviously is not scientific in nature?

As mentioned in a previous post, reading is critical to a Nerd’s development. We also called out the Harry Potter series as a perfect example of an immersive world that grabs a reader’s imagination, piques their curiosity, and inspires them to think about how things could be in the future.

Yes, a wizard, though mythical, has become an inspiration for future scientific and engineering breakthroughs. Now that’s some kind of magic!

For generations, sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure stories in books, TV shows, and movies have inspired development of several new inventions. Here are just a few examples:

The space elevator was first imagined in 1895 but brought to life in a 1979 Sci-Fi Novel. The space elevator was first imagined in 1895 but brought to life in a 1979 Sci-Fi Novel.

  • ION Propulsion Drive – Captain Kirk mentioned it in nearly every TV episode and movie. But did you know that NASA has been working with ION Propulsion Drives since the 1950s?
  • Cloaking Device – Harry Potter had his invisibility cloak and now, believe it or not, someone has developed a device that simulates invisibility.
  • Space Elevator – Though the concept of a Space Elevator was first envisioned in 1895 by Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, it was Arthur C. Clarke’s 1979 sci-fi novel, The Fountains of Paradise, that opened our minds to the possibility of a device that could shoot people and supplies from Earth and connect them directly to locations in space using a long tether system. And, despite technological hurdles, it’s really being developed.
  • The Star Trek Tricorder – Yes, this once-fantastic invention may soon become reality. X-Prize and Qualcomm are offering $10 million for anyone who can develop a device that helps diagnose and cure sick patients and that fits perfectly in the palm of your hand.

So there you go. Art imitating life imitating art.  Sci-fi and fantasy stories have always helped stretch our imaginations and allowed us to ask the all-important Nerd question:

“What if…”

Think about all those Star Wars fans from 1977 who got a glimpse of a futuristic world, far, far away. Or kids (like this Clueless Dad) who watched The Six Million Dollar Man religiously. Or the comic-book devouring geek who got inspired to build a real-life Ironman exoskeleton suit.

How many of these Nerds were driven to pursue STEM careers and interests after being inspired by these futuristic themes?

So, sooner than later, let your Nerds read Harry Potter or Percy Jackson…or the classics of Clarke and Bradbury. Let them watch Star Wars or superhero movies. Not only will the material open their minds, but it also may get them asking “What if…”

Nerd on!

GirlTastic shows off her love for all things Harry Potter, including the latest book in the series.

GirlTastic shows off her love for all things Harry Potter, including the latest book in the series.

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