Tag Archives: They Might Be Giants

A selection of science songs for summer

Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) has compiled a list of science songs and it includes a few Canadian surprises. Here’s more from the July 21, 2016 PI notice received via email.

Ah, summer.

School’s out, the outdoors beckon, and with every passing second a 4.5-billion-year-old nuclear fireball fuses 620 million tons of hydrogen so brightly you’ve gotta wear shades.

Who says you have to stop learning science over the summer?

All you need is the right soundtrack to your next road trip, backyard barbeque, or day at the beach.

Did we miss your favourite science song? Tweet us @Perimeter with the hashtag #SciencePlaylist.

You can find the list and accompanying videos on The Ultimate Science Playlist webpage on the PI website. Here are a few samples,

“History of Everything” – Barenaked Ladies (The Big Bang Theory theme)

You probably know this one as the theme song of The Big Bang Theory. But here’s something you might not know. The tune began as an improvised ditty Barenaked Ladies’ singer Ed Robertson performed one night in Los Angeles after reading Simon Singh’s book Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About It. Lo and behold, in the audience that night were Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, creators of The Big Bang Theory. The rest is history (of everything).

“Bohemian Gravity” – A Capella Science (Tim Blais)

Tim Blais, the one-man choir behind A Capella Science, is a master at conveying complex science in fun musical parodies. “Bohemian Gravity” is his most famous, but be sure to also check out our collaboration with him about gravitational waves, “LIGO: Feel That Space.”

“NaCl” – Kate and Anna McGarrigle

“NaCl” is a romantic tale of the courtship of a chlorine atom and a sodium atom, who marry and become sodium chloride. “Think of the love you eat,” sings Kate McGarrigle, “when you salt your meat.”

This is just a sampling. At this point, there are 15 science songs on the webpage. Surprisingly, rap is not represented. One other note, you’ll notice all of my samples are Canadian. (Sadly, I had other videos as well but every time I saved a draft I lost at least half or more. It seems the maximum allowed to me is three.).

Here are the others I wanted to include:

“Mandelbrot Set” – Jonathan Coulton

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton (JoCo, to fans) is arguably the patron saint of geek-pop, having penned the uber-catchy credits songs of the Portal games, as well as this loving tribute to a particular set of complex numbers that has a highly convoluted fractal boundary when plotted.

“Higgs Boson Sonification” – Traq 

CERN physicist Piotr Traczyk (a.k.a. Traq) “sonified” data from the experiment that uncovered the Higgs boson, turning the discovery into a high-energy metal riff.

“Why Does the Sun Shine?” – They Might Be Giants

Choosing just one song for this playlist by They Might Be Giants is a tricky task, since They Definitely Are Nerdy. But this one celebrates physics, chemistry, and astronomy while also being absurdly catchy, so it made the list. Honourable mention goes to their entire album for kids, Here Comes Science.

In any event, the PI list is a great introduction to science songs and The Ultimate Science Playlist includes embedded videos for all 15 of the songs selected so far. Happy Summer!

Particle Man and Marian Call at CERN

I like to collect (desultorily) items about science-themed music and Marian Call’s recently completed (very successful) Kickstarter campaign (she received $63,0000 in pledges having asked for $11,000 originally) fits that bill, more or less.  Here’s an excerpt from Mike Masnick’s, July 24, 2012 posting on Techdirt describing Call’s campaign approach,

… she created Marian Call’s European Adventure Quest, in which she effectively “gamified” Kickstarter, such that the more she earned, the more levels would be “unlocked.” The main idea was that she would tour Europe and record a live album, but the more she raised, the more places she would visit and the more cover songs she would do (she usually does originals, but people have requested covers, and she was worried about the licensing fees if she didn’t raise money in support).

At the $55,000 level, she offered a cover of ‘Particle Man’ by They Might Be Giants to be recorded live at CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory).

Here’s Particle Man by They Might Be Giants as found on YouTube,

By the way, at $44,000 level she offered ‘The Elements Song’ by Tom Lehrer. Even though the campaign has ended, it’s well worth checking out.

PCAST report; University of Alberta claims leadership in providing nanotech facilities for undergrad students; a securities analysis and innovation in Canada; Mar.10.10 UK debate; science songs

Triumph! After a technical glitch or two,  I was able to watch the live stream of the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) representatives’, Maxine Savitch and Ed Penhoet, presentation to the  President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, on Friday, March 12, 2010.  The short story (and it’s the same one for every agency): please keep funding us and please sir, we’d like more. (Oliver Twist reference in that last bit)

More seriously, I was impressed by the fact that they adopted a measured approach regarding basic vs commercialization funding needs and regarding competition for leadership in nanotechnology (US vs the rest of the world). There was an acknowledgment that the NNI is ten years old and from there they launched into the need for funding to commercialize nanotechnology while maintaining their commitment to basic science research. They noted that the US is a leader in nanotechnology but its leadership is eroding as more countries in Europe and Asia particularly devote more attention and resources to nanotechnology research.

Surprisingly, they first singled out Germany as a nanotechnology leader; it’s usually (by international organizations and other jurisdictions as well as the US) China which is singled out first as a competitor because of its extraodinarily fast progress to the top three or five depending on what you’re measuring as nanotechnology research. I think this strategy worked well as it expanded the notion of competition between the US and a single country to emphasize the global aspect of the nanotechnology endeavour and the need for a range of strategies.

I had another surprise while watching the live stream when they discussed strategies for retaining students who study for advanced degrees in the US and return to their home countries on completion. There was talk of stapling a “green card” (permission to work in the US) to the graduate diploma although one member of the council hastened to suggest that they only wanted the “right” kinds of advanced degrees. Presumably the council member did not want to encourage experts with advanced degrees in medieval Italian poetry and other such frippery to remain in the US.

There was considerable concern (which led to a recommendation) about the scarcity of data on commercialization, i.e., the true value of the nanotechnology aspect of a product and its benefits.

Mention was made of risks and hazards with the recommendation that research needs to be focused on defining a path for commercialization and on developing a regulatory framework.

Nanoclast (IEEE blogger), Dexter Johnson, has also commented here on the March 12, 2010 PCAST presentation, if you want another perspective.

The folks at Edmonton’s University of Alberta are doing a little chest beating about the nanotechnology research facilities they make available for undergraduate students. From Elise Stolte’s article in the Edmonton Journal,

In a small, windowless room at the University of Alberta, a dozen undergraduate students sit in the middle of $2-million worth of new equipment sensitive enough to measure an atom, the smallest particle of matter.

It’s the first place in Canada where students not yet finished their first degree can start running real experiments on the nano scale, lab co-ordinator Ben Bathgate said.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California’s Stanford University have undergraduate labs that come close, “but they don’t have the range of equipment,” he said.

It’s fragile, state-of-the-art, and so new that one of the 18 machines still has parts in bubble wrap.

I don’t really care whether or not the equipment is better than what they have in Stanford and MIT, I’m just glad to see that an effort is being made to provide students with facilities so they can learn and participate in some exciting and cutting edge research. This is only part of the picture, Tim Harper over at TNT Log comments on a recent report (Vision for UK Research by the Council for Science and Technology) in his post titled, A Concerted Effort to Save British Science,

… there is also a need to start thinking about science in a different way. In fact we really need to look at the whole process of scientific innovation from primary education to technology funding.

This is a holistic approach to the entire endeavour and means that students won’t be left with a degree or certificate and no where to go, which leads me to the topic of innovation.

I’ve commented before on innovation in Canada and the fact that there is general agreement that established businesses don’t spend enough money on R&D (research and development). There is an eye-opening study by Mary J. Benner of The Wharton School which provides what may be some insight into the situation. From the news item on physorg.com,

The reluctance of securities analysts to recommend investment in veteran companies using new techniques to grapple with radical technological change may be harming these companies as they struggle to compete, according to a new study in the current issue of Organization Science, a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

The findings suggest that management teams contemplating bold innovation and the adoption of radical technological change may be held back by conservative investment firms that reward firms that stick to their knitting by extending existing technologies.

“This may be short-sighted,” says Dr. Benner. “Existing companies may be rewarded in the short run with increased stock prices for focusing on strategies that extend the financial performance from the old technology, but they may pay later in the face of threatening technological substitutes.”

Benner’s article is behind a paywall but the news item on physorg.com does offer a good summary.

Kudos to Ms. Benner for pointing out that established companies don’t seem to get much support when they want to embrace new technologies. Benner’s discussion about Polaroid and Kodak is quite salutary. (Note: I once worked for Creo Products, computer-to-plate technology, which was eventually acquired by Kodak, a company which, last I heard, is now in serious financial trouble.) This study certainly provides a basis for better understanding why Canadian companies aren’t inclined to innovate much.

The Brits enjoyed their third and final for this series of UK Cross-Party Science Policy Debate on Tuesday, March 9, 2010. The webcast which was live streamed from the House of Commons is available here.  At 2.5 hours I haven’t found the time to listen past the first few minutes. Dave Bruggeman, Pasco Phronesis, does provide some commentary from his perspective as a US science policy analyst.

One final bit for today, the Pasco Phronesis blog provides some videos of science songs from the Hear Comes Science album by They Might Be Giants.