June 30, 2010

Introducing the "Virtual Studio"

For the past three years, Wendy has taught a class at UC-Davis that combines science with music-making. In its current incarnation, the class is known as SAS 42: Earth Water Science Song. Its unique format consists of two one-hour lectures per week along with a two-hour "studio" session, in which students learn various aspects of songwriting and performance and apply those to the scientific material they're learning. One example of the students' output, a song about plant transpiration called "Breathe," has been uploaded to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IsMMmqbR28

While this class is undeniably innovative and well-liked by students, its execution requires personnel with dual expertise in science and music, as well as institutional support that may that be available elsewhere. To facilitate scientific songwriting in situations where participants aren't able to meet regularly in person, we have created a site that we call Virtual Studio. In brief, it allows collaborators to post and critique musical works in progress. For more information, please visit SingAboutScience.org and follow the links under the Virtual Studio heading. This project is still in its infancy, and feedback would be very helpful!

June 24, 2010

Science Song of the Week #5

This week's featured song is actually a pair of songs.

Though we tend to think of science songs as a new, experimental frontier in education, they have been around for many decades. The true aficionados out there are familiar with such classics as "First and Second Law" by Flanders and Swann and "The Elements" by Tom Lehrer. Even more remarkable than these one-off pieces was the production of a SIX-ALBUM set of Ballads For The Age Of Science in the late '50s and early '60s, with lyrics by Hy Zaret and music by Lou Singer. Of the Zaret/Singer songs, "Why Does The Sun Shine?" (orginally performed by Tom Glazer on the album Space Songs) remains well-known thanks to various cover versions recorded by They Might Be Giants.

Despite the authentic-sounding content of "Why Does The Sun Shine?" -- also known by its first line, "The sun is a mass of incandescent gas" -- They Might Be Giants decided that it needed to be updated. Their new song "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?" begins, "The sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma." As they explain, "Plasma: electrons are free. Plasma: a fourth state of matter. Not gas, liquid, or solid. Plasma -- forget that song. Plasma -- they got it wrong. That thesis has been rendered invalid."

Kudos to They Might Be Giants for keeping up with the latest research!

June 17, 2010

Science Song of the Week #4

My old friend Jeremy Fox, an ecology professor at the University of Calgary, alerted me to the video below, a live performance of Performance, Feedback, Revision taken from the album The Rap Guide to Evolution by Baba Brinkman. The song is interesting for at least a couple of reasons. First, it (and the rest of the album) grew out of a dialog between Brinkman, a professional "rap troubadour," and Mark Pallen, an evolutionary biologist. Second, it uses the analogy of making music to explain how evolution works, and does so in a reasonably accurate and compelling way. Watch for the freestyle section where Brinkman introduces some new "mutations" into his song!

June 16, 2010

Most popular science songs of all time?

We've made a preliminary list of the most popular science songs to be found on YouTube. There are at least eight with over 850,000 views! Check out our "Chart Recorder" page...
...and let us know if we've missed any!

June 11, 2010

I'll Take Care of You...

In earlier posts (e.g., What rhymes with "RuBisCO"?) we mentioned a song created by Dave Nachmanoff and participants in the UC-Davis "Oak Discovery Day." That song is now available on Dave's website. It is called I'll Take Care of You (If You'll Take Care of Me).

While some of the lyrics are almost comically specific ("Thank you . . . for visiting the UC-Davis arboretum oaks"), it's a nice example of what can happen when musicians, scientists, and others come together in a collaborative music-making project.

June 10, 2010

Science Song of the Week #3

One reason to use science songs as educational tools is that they are a form of advertising, with "hooks" to grab people's attention.

Much to my delight, two biotech companies have taken this idea and run with it, creating very catchy science songs that showcase their expertise and products. First, in January 2008, Bio-Rad released Scientists for Better PCR.

As if in response to this bit of Bio-Rad brilliance, Eppendorf put forth its own ad-in-a-song a few months later: It's Called epMotion.

In case it isn't obvious how much effort went into producing these pieces, the following featurettes dutifully chronicle the application of makeup, positioning of cameras, and so forth.
Behind the Scenes: "Scientists for Better PCR"
The making of "It's Called epMotion"

June 3, 2010

Science Song of the Week #2

This week's Science Song of the Week is "Glucose, Glucose" as performed by Science Groove. It's a parody of "Sugar, Sugar" the 1969 bubble-gum hit by The Archies, with new lyrics about glucose metabolism.

Since "Glucose, Glucose" was recorded in 2004, the advent of YouTube and similar websites has made it almost shockingly easy to combine sounds and images and to share these mashups online. As a result, "Glucose, Glucose" has taken on a new life as the soundtrack of a couple of YouTube videos:
* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C78BMJ7D68I
* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJvAL-iiLnQ

I prefer the graphics of the first one, but the latter has over 100,000 hits! Just think about that for a moment. A catchy science song was released "into the wild"; others enjoyed it, added pictures, and shared it with friends; and now 100,000 people have heard the song. Can there be any doubt that this is a good way to reach large audiences with scientific content?