February 21, 2011

Goodbye, Blogspot; hello, WordPress!

When we started this blog in April 2010, we weren't quite sure what we would do with it or how it would relate to the rest of the Sing About Science project. Ten months later, it's clear that the blog is integral to the project and something that we should keep writing. To give it an appearance that is more professional and more consistent with the rest of SingAboutScience.org, we've moved it to a new WordPress-based directory: http://www.singaboutscience.org/wp/.

If you've enjoyed reading the posts here at singaboutscience.blogspot.com, please update your feed readers, bookmarks, etc. Virtually all of the content posted here is now available at the new address, and future entries will be posted only to the new address.

February 18, 2011

Grammies for science songs, part 2

Well, They Might Be Giants' stellar Here Comes Science did not win the Grammy Award for Best Children's Album last weekend, and a bunch of scientists are pretty upset. In fact, the journal BioTechniques went so far as to create its own Best Lab Song of the Year category, select nominees, and appoint itself the judge of the nominees. I'm not sure this represents the peer review process at its best, but you are welcome to view the BioTechniques article ("And the Grammy for best lab song goes to...") and decide whether you agree with the selections.

February 17, 2011

Science song of the week: "Coral Reef" by Billy B

From Geophysical Research Letters via Science News comes the word that corals off the coast of Japan are moving northward, perhaps in response to the warming of the ocean.
The team, led by geographer Hiroya Yamano of the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, analyzed maps of corals from four time periods starting in the 1930s. They found that of nine common coral species, four had expanded northward, and two went as far as temperate waters. The study confirms what marine biologists and fishermen have speculated for years.

For some background information on choral reefs, we go to a live performance in which Billy B is supported by a coral group, er, choral group, of schoolchildren. If this song doesn't teach you the word "zooxanthellae," I don't know what will!

February 14, 2011

New additions to the database: Jonny Berliner and Doug Edmonds

Sing About Science's searchable database now includes over 3700 math and science songs, which seems like a lot. But does it include virtually all of the relevant songs out there? I doubt it. Just yesterday I discovered a couple of artists of whom I was not previously aware: Jonny Berliner and Doug Edmonds. Berliner is a musician with a knack for lines like, "With Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle you can be uncertain for sure." Edmonds is a junior high school teacher who has been written up in the TribLocal branch of the Chicago Tribune ("Singing science teacher attracts YouTube following").

I look forward to discovering even more singing scientists and adding them to the database. Suggestions are always welcome!

February 11, 2011

Scientists are like punk rockers (?)

Alison McCook notes certain parallels between the guitar-smashers and the gene-cloners.
"Punk ethos is typified by a passionate adherence to individualism, creativity and freedom of expression with no regard to established opinions," Bill Cuevas, biochemist at the biotech company Genencor and music director at the Stanford University radio station KZSU, tells The Scientist. "Good scientific discipline is also typified by such qualities, including inquisitiveness and curiosity, with no entrenchment to established beliefs."

...Importantly, punk is "about the freedom to express what you want to express," says Milo Aukerman, a plant researcher at DuPont and lead singer of legendary punk band The Descendents. In many ways, research is the same -- more so than in other professions, scientists can set their own schedules and decide what they want to study. "There is a certain freedom implied there," Aukerman adds.

Unfortunately, the article backs away from the possible conclusion that more punk rock music should be about science.
Of course, even if punk music and science share many elements, the comparison can be taken too far, says Aukerman. For instance, you don't see many punk musicians singing about science. "I will probably never ever write a song about DNA," he says.

Thanks to Joel Tetreault for pointing us toward this article.

February 10, 2011

One man's trash is another man's science song

Our featured science story of the week is Turning garbage into gas (from The Economist).
Appropriately tweaked, the destruction of organic materials (including paper and plastics) by plasma torches produces a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called syngas. That, in turn, can be burned to generate electricity. Add in the value of the tipping fees that do not have to be paid if rubbish is simply vaporised, plus the fact that energy prices in general are rising, and plasma torches start to look like a plausible alternative to burial.

A science song that aligns fairly well with this story is "Making biogas is a gas, gas, gas" by T. H. Culhane. Note, however, the difference between syngas, discussed in the article, and biogas, discussed in the song. The gases produced are different -- syngas is carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2), while biogas usually consists mostly of methane (CH4) -- and they are produced by different processes, with biogas arising from the metabolism of living organisms such as bacteria.

February 9, 2011

Hey, I was on TV again!

Sorry for yet another bit of self-promotion, but here I am in "UW professor a mad scientist behind songs about science," a KING 5 TV piece that aired earlier tonight.

February 7, 2011

Another personal anecdote

On January 6th I gave a brief presentation -- "Global health, neglected diseases, and drug development" -- to students in Glacier Peak High School's biotechnology program. At the end of it I tacked on an a cappella rendition of a song about malaria written by my boss. A couple of weeks later I received a very nice thank-you card signed by 21 of the students. Although they only had space to write a sentence or two apiece, 14 of them mentioned the song!

Although we cannot conclude anything about my singing ability or the students' comprehension of the song lyrics, the song was obviously memorable. And if any of the students turn their attention to malaria again in the future, they may well recall the existence of this song, search for it on YouTube or my database, and perhaps digest the words and ponder their meaning. That's exactly the sort of informal learning that we want to encourage.

February 3, 2011

Antimatter hey, antimatter ho...

Jonathan Coulton, who we've mentioned before, is somewhat famous for his "Thing a Week" project, in which he recorded a new song every week for a year. A pretty strict schedule ... and yet downright lax compared to that of Jonathan Mann, who has been posting a new song to YouTube every single day for over two years running! His Song A Day #686 ("CERN Created and Held Anti-Matter") is our selection as this week's Science Song of the Week. Feel free to sing along with the chorus: "Antimatter hey, antimatter ho -- our model of the universe needs you, bro...."

Mann's song was chosen because it may serve as a fun entry point into a recent Science News article, "Sizing up the electron," which explains the connection between electrons and antimatter as follows.
[The electron] inspired the mathematical equation that first hinted at the existence of antimatter, the exotic, oppositely charged counterpart to ordinary matter.

Now the electron is poised to go one step further, by helping scientists understand why matter triumphed over antimatter in the early universe. In theory, the Big Bang should have created matter and antimatter in equal amounts, but if so they would have annihilated each other and left nothing behind.

Though the standard model of particle physics, the mathematical framework for explaining how stuff is held together, can't quite account for how matter beat out antimatter, some theories that go beyond the standard model do. By carefully measuring the shape of the electron, through a particular property known as the electric dipole moment, scientists think they can narrow those theories down to get at the one that best reflects reality.

"The electron EDM is one of the places where there should be a good chance of seeing some new phenomena that can't be explained in the standard model, and could in turn help to explain this matter-antimatter imbalance in the universe," says physicist David DeMille of Yale University.

February 1, 2011

I'm glad I have a boss who sings too

I got a rare call on my office phone this past Friday at about 4:30 PM. It was my boss, calling in from California. We chatted for a couple of minutes and then I said, "Look, I'm sorry but I have to go. We're, ah, making a music video about the lab's research."

I would have preferred not to cut off my boss with such a frivolous-sounding excuse, but felt safe in doing so. He himself has been known to sing about medicine in public. Besides, the video was sort of meant to celebrate the work being done by his group. In general terms, this entails the very early stages of drug development for infectious diseases. Like most biomedical research, it requires a constant influx of grant money ... which is why I called the song "Money 4 Drugz."

Many thanks to Ryan Choi, who directed the video, and everyone else who helped!