Science through fiction

20th May 2005 at 01:00
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has been teleported to a museum near you. Adi Bloom reports

It offers answers to life, the universe and everything.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy exhibition, which opened this month at London's Science Museum, aims to highlight the science behind the cult novel by Douglas Adams, made into a recently-released Hollywood film.

The exhibition includes a series of interactive zones, based on the spaceships and the different worlds encountered in the book.

Sarah Leonard, Science Museum education officer, said: "There are aspects grounded in scientific reality. We're looking at artificial intelligence, how big the universe is, and potential technology, such as teleportation.

We are looking at what might be possible... and the implications for us."

The book includes a scene in which a supercomputer reveals that the answer to life, the universe and everything is the number 42. Fans claim that this was proved in the film's opening weekend, when British box-office takings reportedly totalled pound;4.2 million.

Along with displays on supercomputers, parallel universes and the big bang, the exhibition will include a series of props and costumes from the film. A zone devoted to Marvin the Paranoid Android, one of the book's more famous characters, includes a life-size android costume. An eight-foot puppet, used in the film to create the Vogons - aliens responsible for writing the third-worst poetry in the universe - will be accompanied by opportunities to read Vogon poetry.

James Rudoni, exhibition manager, said: "As subjects, parallel universes and improbability are quite complicated and a bit geeky. But science fiction and films show that science can be exciting, cutting-edge or just weird. It's learning by stealth."

The exhibition will link to the museum's permanent collection, where displays on science-fiction writers, such as Jules Verne and HG Wells, show how novels inspired scientists and rocket design.

Mr Rudoni said: "Teleportation, for example, has been featured in TV shows for years and years, and was always considered impossible. But scientists can now teleport microbes. Sometimes the people who create fiction are pushing back realms of science and inspiring scientists to think in a slightly different way."

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