When best-selling science fiction author Andy Weir stepped on stage at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory this week, it was like he’d walked into a family reunion.
Although this was Weir’s first visit to Argonne, he is familiar with DOE’s national laboratory system. In the 1980s, he began his career as a 15-year-old computer-programming intern at DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories.
“Every lab we went to, they had to drag me out.” — Andy Weir, best-selling author of The Martian and Artemis
Weir spent most of his time at Argonne giving a series of standing-room-only talks, geared toward middle school students who are participating in a computational meteorology camp, college interns spending their summer at Argonne, and middle and high school families and faculty from around Chicago.
Weir is best known for rooting his stories in real-world science. When writing The Martian — Weir’s breakout novel that follows an astronaut’s struggle to escape Mars after being stranded — he dove into the details of botany, astronomy and orbits. With Artemis, Weir’s 2017 lunar adventure novel, he developed the plot only after researching how (and why) we would actually build a colony on the moon.
“Only once I designed the entire city did I start thinking about plots and stories,” he said during a 2017 talk at Google.
During his Argonne visit, Weir toured the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), the Advanced Photon Source (APS) and Argonne’s Electrochemical Discovery Laboratory, where scientists seek to uncover next generation batteries. The ALCF, CNM and APS are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.
“Every lab we went to, they had to drag me out,” Weir said. “As a software engineer for 25 years, I was most excited to see the ALCF. The supercomputers they have there are doing some of the most amazing simulations.”
“We are thrilled to have Andy visit and spend his day inspiring not only Argonne’s researchers, but also the next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Meridith Bruozas, manager of Argonne’s Educational Programs. “And Andy having been an intern at one of our sister national labs helps our students see their own possibilities through his personal story.”
Weir’s visit culminated in a panel during which he joined Argonne’s Katherine Riley, the ALCF’s director of science, as well as CNM nanoscientist Ani Sumant and materials scientist Jason Croy. The group discussed the power of storytelling and the links between science fiction and scientific research.
“All I have to do is come up with something that is theoretically possible. In practice, that’s hard. You [scientists] are all one big footnote,” joked Weir.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.