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By day, Charles Adler studies the propagation of laser beams through turbulent media, such as ocean water, and predicts the rainbow patterns formed when light shines through morning dew. By night, the physicist, who works at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, explores the world of science fiction, immersing himself in books and films about the voyages of humans through space or the adventures of aliens on distant planets. Adler’s two passions do occasionally collide: he published a book on the physical plausibility of science fiction inventions, and he recently produced a lecture series on how research shapes science fiction. In a talk last month hosted by the APS Mid-Atlantic Senior Physicists Group, Adler discussed the reasons why some science fiction inventions fail to become reality, even when they are physically plausible.

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