27 Sep 2013

Sing a Song of Science

Do you ever wish that scientists could just explain what they do in simple words? Or at least, explain a little of what they do? Or maybe even just talk about their studies without using big words in a way that makes everyone else feel foolish for not knowing the words?

What about if they sang?

No kidding. There are actually songs to be found that were written by scientists, and that were written about science. Some of the songs use familiar tunes, or tunes from classical music. You can find recordings of many of these songs on the Internet. And yes, most of these songs have been written by someone with a sense of humour, and a sense of wonder.

For chemists, there's a classic song written by comedian Tom Lehrer which names all the elements of the periodic table. All of them, in a list of names that isn't alphabetical and only parts of it are sorted. He sings the names of the elements to a tune by the composers Gilbert and Sullivan, called "The Modern Major-General." Lehrer's song has been sung on television shows about science, like "The Big Bang Theory" and older shows such as "Gilmore Girls."
It's hard to imagine how anyone can ever remember all the names of the elements like this. Singing this song is a fun feat of science memory. Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter in the films based on J.K. Rowling's books, has been known to sing this song at parties.

This kind of singing even works for particle physics. How about a discussion of string theory that's set to the tune of a famous song? It's neat to think that an explanation for how the building blocks of the universe work can not only make sense, but it can rhyme! This particular song is called "Bohemian Gravity" as it is a parody of the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" by the rock band Queen.
The video for this song was made up of 70 hours of recordings by a physics student while he was studying for his Master's degree. He uses the name Acapella Science when posting his videos on YouTube for others to enjoy. As one fan wrote in the comments section on the video's webpage, "I'm sure Brian May, the guitarist of Queen with a PhD an Astrophysics, would approve of this video if he sees it."

The Monty Python comedy troupe have covered astronomy in their song about the expanding universe. For philosophy, there's a drinking song written by the Pythons which names most of the philosophers studied at University -- but describes the philosophers as drinking a lot of booze. That's one song for young scientists to hear or sing only with their parents' advice. Listening to science songs might be a fun thing for a family to do together. And singing them certainly can be fun!

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