Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Science & Music

I arrived home Saturday to find an odd-looking instrument on the living room floor: an oscilloscope, my mother explained, borrowed from... well, I'm not sure from whom. It's a large-ish industrial-baby-blue box, with a screen and various dials on one side, and a microphone snaking off to one side. She's tutoring an Italian student in English and borrowed it to help her tutee "see" the different sounds of our language. Back when my mom was a full-time English teacher, before I was born, she borrowed an oscilloscope from the physics department every year during her unit on poetry, to show the kids what different sounds look like, crisp T's and D's and more sibyllant sounds. I got an immediate hankering to take it back to New York with me (not least because it would push the envelope of odd things that I've carried on the train!) but of course, it wasn't mine to take. My mom assures me that there is software that will do the same thing. Anyway, sound and light is one unit that we often skim or skip, running out of time at the end of the year.

Anyway, thinking about sound and science reminded me that I never posted about the SCONYC workshop I attended on using music in the science classroom.

The workshop was led by Mark Rosengarten, a high school chemistry teacher who's produced an entire CD full of songs written to help his students learn and remember content. Now, I have dabbled in scientific songwriting before, but I've always started with existing songs and just changed the lyrics. Rosengarten writes all his songs himself, from rap to rock'n'roll and roots. The songs are cheesy in a way that ensures you'll walk away singing them, which is perfect for students, but make sure you are ready to to have verses like these stuck in your head before listening: (this is just a sample, other samples are on his website)

What the Heck is Light?
Mark Rosengarten

Look at the electrons, all happy in their shells
zipping right along, their life is pretty swell
Each one has their own amount of certain energy
and they will stay forever, if you let them be...

But if you kick an atom squarely in the pants
electrons get excited and will do their special dance
Some absorb the energy and move to higher shells
and leave behind light places in the spots where they once dwelled...

Rosengarten's not the only one turning science into song. My friend W. invited me to go along with her to hear the Physics Chanteuse sing on Valentine's Day. I had other plans, alas, and had to miss the performance, but I've since visited her website, where you can hear mp3's and download lyrics for a dozen songs (and buy the CDs!), including my favorite,

Carbon is a Girl's Best Friend
by Lynda Williams

A lithium dose just might cure your depression
but carbon is a girl’s best friend.
Gold may be grand but it won’t start a fire in y our
BBQ or put the toot in your choo-choo.
Life on Earth is carbon based.
It came here on rocks from outer space and
formed organic compounds till
the carbon-cycle went round and round!
Carbon is a girl’s best friend!

Unlike Rosengarten, Williams doesn't write her own music - she adapts jazz standards and eighties pop songs - but her singing's at least an electron shell above his... (and she doesn't call herself a "chanteuse" for nothing).


Blogger Mamacita said...

Don't forget these awesome Moxy Fruvous lyrics:


fa da fa fa fa dow

(Dave on lead)
the sun sends rays
travelling through outer space
photons of light
that feed the humnan race

the solar thrill
that turns on chlorophyll
the nourishing kiss
of photosynthesis

to create this extacy
let's use this recipe

add water to light
an electron takes flight
and oxygen is set free
the result is ATP
that's how plants store energy
real cooking begins
when CO2 comes in
it's a sugar factory

fa da fa fa fa dow

plants and trees
are the base of a hierarchy
the rest of us too
live off this chemistry

yes even beef
starts off from a leaf
life's secret is this:

photosynthesis helps to clear
carbon from the atmosphere
it takes co2 in
releases oxygen

photosynthesis helps to clear
carbon from the atmosphere
it takes co2 in
releases oxygen

fa dup fup


The Mitosis Waltz

If it's ze secrets of life that you seek,
Zen srough (through) a mi-croscope you must peek!

Mendel did vonders just using his eye,
But to really see, you must magnify.
You can't help but notice ve're nossing (nothing) but cells,
But vhere in ze cell does heredity dvell?

The Nu-cleus! That's vhere it hides.
You don't see much until it divides,
Then Chro-masomes enter new phases,
Split into two, und zat is ze basis

Of Sexual Transmission vhich olvays engrosses
Our feverish minds, but it's only Meiosis.
Reducing zee chromasomes fifty percent,
So vhen egg and sperm meet at zat blessed event,

Ze Chro-masomes form one full set.
Just two of each kind, zat's ze best best!

And that new cell begins to grow,
Multiplies into an Em-bryo.
Ze ex-plana-tion of zis growth
Is it's due to a process ve know as Mitosis!

And zat's vhat our Microscopes helped us determine,
In Germany, vhere un ze germ cells are German!

7:44 PM  
Anonymous bill said...

Does anyone remember "Pump Your Blood" by Potsie Webber on Happy Days? I still hum it to myself whenever I am teaching the circulatory system. I wonder if an MP3 of it exists anywhere.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous bill said...

OK so I have WAY too much time on my hands this break obviously. "Pump Your Blood" and many other science and math mp3s can be found at:


8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try a LabPro and microphone + logger pro. Not cheap, but cool. I use it to do lots of physics/music things in my classroom-

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Muriel said...

Using an oscilloscope to study sounds, I've never done that. All I've ever used it for are endless, tedious, boring electricity/electronics labs. (Can you tell I wasn't a fan of electricity???)

2:12 AM  
Blogger gadjitfreek said...

Are you saying my singing is goofy? You are so right. By the way, "Schrodinger's Cat Strikes Back" is nearly ready for release...more crazy chemistry songs. :)


5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:48 AM  

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