A few months ago, I had a conversation with a twitter friend about how a lot of the stunts on Jackass would make great examples to show in a basic physics class. Every time those fools collide shopping carts or propel themselves off ramps on various conveyances my brain starts to buzz with physics concepts like momentum transfer and energy conservation. After thinking back to some of the episodes I’ve seen (and the one movie) I realized you can teach almost all the concepts in a basic physics class just with using examples from Jackass, which would be way more entertaining than the usual examples I’ve encountered.
I’ve had some other pop-culture related ideas as well so I thought I would put together some of my brain storms into a small list of what I’m calling Low Culture Science courses. They may not be classy, but they’ll most likely be quite engaging!
Class: ICP – Insane Clown Physics
Course Summary: This survey course tackles a wide breadth of scientific topics using the Insane Clown Posse song “Miracles” as the outline for the syllabus. This course will touch on subjects from both the hard and life sciences as we aim to answer the big questions asked in “Miracles” and correct some of the ICP’s scientific misconceptions. We will deconstruct hands-on and multimedia examples in order to describe the science we encounter in the world around us. And we will also study contemporary scientific publications in order to demonstrate that scientists are not, in fact, lying mother fuckers.
Homework Question: Go on YouTube and find a video demonstrating a phenomenon involving magnetism. Briefly describe the video and, within the context of your chosen video, explain what “fucking magnets” are and how they work.
Final Project: Working in pairs, you will each pick either one topic or several, related topics mentioned in “Miracles”. You will then write an original rap explaining the science behind your topic(s). Each pair will film a music video for their rap, which must include visual elements that relate your topic and instruct the audience on the science you are presenting. Extra credit for creative face painting.
Pick a science topic. Then go online and grad a bunch of papers about that topic. Read the opening paragraphs. Get a sense of variations on a theme?
I’ve just started writing the second paper to come out of my main dissertation project. And since I tend to think from beginning to end of the paper, I’m starting with the part that’s the biggest pain in the butt: the introduction. My Ph.D. work was on perovskite oxide superlattices. Pretty much ever paper on this topic starts out the same way:
"Perovskite oxides are useful because there are many materials with similar structures but a wide variety of behaviors (e.g. metallic, superconducting, ferroelectric, magnetic, insulating, and on and on). Because of this, you can put two different materials together to make a superlattice with novel properties."
Ok…maybe the language gets a bit more formal and sciencey than that, but you get the point. Basically to write and introduction, that that paragraph and make it sound slightly different than the introductory paragraph of all the papers you are citing.
I wrote something to this effect on twitter, and @rejectedbanana happily chimed in with a better idea on how to open a paper. This lead to some back-and-forth on both our parts where we came up with opening lines to spice up any Physical Review Letter.
And what about going beyond the introduction? Opening lines like these have lead me to believe that my next paper should either be written in iambic pentameter (although it’s been done before), early 90’s rap, or perhaps as a romance novel.
Many of you reading this may be familiar with ArXiv.org and many of you may not be. ArXiv is an open access library where scientists, mostly of the physics, math and computer science varieties, put up papers or pre-prints for all the world to see. Many of these are not yet peer reviewed (and maybe never will be), so you can often find papers that are fun, pop culture based, or just plain crazy-pants (I’m going to suggest a search for papers with the word “god” in the title here.) Since I like to turn to ArXiv when I have some downtime and want to explore the lighter side of science, I thought I’d share some of my favorite findings here.
If you want to join in the fun, many of my most fruitful searches come from me poking around in the “General Physics”, “Popular Physics”, and “History and Philosophy of Physics”. You can see the week’s most recent submissions under each category.
So without further ado, here’s a round-up of some fun papers from this past week.
Piezoelectrics are a type of material where, when you apply a stress to them, they accumulate a charge. Additionally, when you apply a voltage to them, the materials contract or expand. Just look at this hypothetical piezoelectric in action!
My group just got done with some beamtime at the National Synchrtron Light Source. Beamtime is when we have time to an x-ray experiment at a national lab and all work in close quarters for long hours for a week or so. This experimental involved a lot of long scans, so we really get to know each other during the down time. Here are some of the highlights from this round.