New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives. In the third film, Karen Yu talks about how the novelisation of Star Wars sparked her interest in lasers and nanoscale manufacturing.

Karen Yu’s growing love of science as a young girl was galvanised by reading the novelisation of the Star Wars movies (Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker by George Lucas). Her desire to build her own fusion reactor eventually morphed into a PhD in industrial photonics, using lasers for nanoscale manufacturing (if not for lightsabers), at Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

Here she talks about this favourite book as part of ‘Novel Thoughts’, a series exploring the literary reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists. From illustrated children’s books to Thomas Hardy, from Star Wars to Middlemarch, we find out what fiction has meant to each of the scientists and peek inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.

‘Novel Thoughts’ was inspired by research at the University of St Andrews by Dr Sarah Dillon (now a lecturer in the Faculty of English at Cambridge) who interviewed 20 scientists for the ‘What Scientists Read’ project. She found that reading fiction can help scientists to see the bigger picture and be reminded of the complex richness of human experience. Novels can show the real stories behind the science, or trigger a desire in a young reader to change lives through scientific discovery. They can open up new worlds, or encourage a different approach to familiar tasks.

View the whole series: Novel Thoughts: What Cambridge scientists read.

Read about Novel Thoughts.

Is there a novel that has inspired you? Let us know! #novelthoughts

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.