Jane Goodall and other great scientists name their favorite sci-fi stories

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Aug 22, 2014, 7:09 PM EDT (Updated)

Scientists may spend their days working in the realm of fact, but that doesn't mean they don't enjoy a good piece of fiction.

Science fiction often gets a great deal of storytelling mileage not just from throwing in spaceships and lasers, but from exploring the scientific possibilities of the future, whether it's faster-than-light space travel, terraforming or gigantic space stations designed to support humanity when Earth is gone. With that in mind, it's easy to see why a scientific mind would lean toward good science fiction. Scientists can also simply be inspired, often at a very young age, by the ambition of science fiction. Think of how many astronauts must have watched Star Trek and Star Wars growing up, then went outside to look up at the stars and dream of visiting them one day. 

So, hoping to learn what stories inspire and delight real-life scientists, the Huffington Post went and asked 15 prominent scientific minds, in fields ranging from biology to astrophysics, what their favorite sci-fi tales are. The answers, while sometimes predictable, are as varied as the fields of expertise.

Iconic primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, not surpisingly, talked about stories related to animals that fed her imagination as a child.

"Three books of my childhood probably had the greatest impact on my life. 'The Story of Doctor Dolittle' (by Hugh Lofting) and 'Tarzan of the Apes' (by Edgar Rice Burroughs) inspired me to understand what animals were trying to tell us and instilled within me an equally strong determination to travel to Africa, live with animals, and write books about them," Goodall said. "'The Miracle of Life' was a large book my grandmother got for free by saving up coupons from cereal packets. It was by no means a book intended for children."

Dr. Adam Riess, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University, devoted his list to "plausible" sci-fi tales, and it's a roster of classics.

"As a 'card carrying' astrophysicist I tend to like my science fiction to be plausible-science fiction. My usual rule for such work is you can make up one outlandish concept that has some foundation in science and then the story should follow the consequences of that concept," Riess said. "Here are ones I like, 'Contact'-Carl Sagan; 'The Fountains of Paradise'-Arthur C. Clarke; 'Childhood's End'-Arthur C. Clarke; 'The Songs of Distant Earth'-Arthur C. Clarke; 'The Martian Chronicles'-Ray Bradbury; 'Fahrenheit 451'-Ray Bradbury; 'Foundation' series-Isaac Asimov; 'Silo' saga-Hugh Howey; 'The Stand'-Stephen King; 'Watership Down'-Richard Adams; 'The Day of the Triffids'-John Wyndham."

Animal scientist, author and activist Dr. Temple Grandin only named one story, but the story happens to be the best Star Trek film ever made: The Voyage Home.

"I’m a Star trek fan... The one I've always liked the best was the one about the whales," Grandin said. "It had them coming to Earth and dressing up as Earth people. Some of the later movies haven’t been as good. They’re going with too 'whizz-bam' special effects."

To read the favorite stories of a dozen more scientists -- including theoretical physicists, paleontologists, cosmologists and more -- head over to The Huffington Post. If you're looking for sci-fi recommendations, it's quite a reading list, particularly if you're a beginner.

(Via Huffington Post)