May 4, 2010
I'm back in Seattle after a great visit to UC-Davis to meet Wendy and other participants in the UBEST project. UBEST, by the way, is an acronym coined by Wendy. The general area of her NSF grant is Undergraduate Biology Education (UBE), and our particular project is Songs for Teaching, so if you put the whole thing together you get UBEST.
There were many interesting and fun aspects of the trip, but Oak Discovery Day at the UC-Davis arboretum was especially special. Dave Nachmanoff was charged with the task of writing a song about the oak grove ... while incorporating input from myself and 30 other attendees ... in less than 90 minutes. This song will eventually be accessible from people's iPhones so that they can listen to it as they walk among the oaks!
Dave did a masterful job of harnessing people's energy and synthesizing their ideas into a coherent and pleasing ditty. Along the way, some excellent discussions were had about what was unique about the UC-Davis oaks and what was worth mentioning in the lyrics. Even though my own contributions were minimal, I remember a lot from the discussions, such as how the oaks were planted by a Dr. Tucker about 50 years ago, how there are over 80 species of oaks in the arboretum, and how the Patwin Indians native to this area used to grind the acorns into flour (which they then used to make bread and other foods). I think the take-home message here is that science songwriting is not just fun and games; in making judgments about the importance, correctness, and clarity of the concepts being expressed, you learn a LOT!
With so many people offering their input, it was inevitable that some ideas would not make it into the finished song. Personally, I was disappointed that the suggestion to highlight RuBisCO was ultimately ignored, though I can see how a decision to feature that enzyme might have offended aficionados of PEP carboxylase. Anyway, RuBisCO fans, that means there's still an unfilled song niche for us to fill. I'll even get us started: Somewhat east of San Francisco/ Mighty oaks employ RuBisCO,/ Slowly using CO2 so/ Others will not have to do so.
Well, I suppose that could still use some work, just like this project as a whole. But we're off to a good start!