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Scientists are turning to music to put across their message

Scientists are turning to music to put across their message

Superconducting magnet at Large Hadron Collider (Cern/M. Brice)

The official choir of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known by its French acronym Cern) is to record a song dedicated to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The LHC is the vast physics experiment built in a 27km-long underground tunnel, which runs in a circle under the French-Swiss border.

The ditty written by clinical psychologist Danuta Orlowska has been set to the tune of the Hippopotamus song by Flanders and Swann and its chorus celebrates the Higgs boson – a sub-atomic particle that the LHC is designed to detect:

“Higgs, Higgs glorious Higgs,” the tune goes, “the theory told them these thingamijigs, were so fundamental.”

But this isn’t Cern’s first ode to particle physics. Staff members once wrote a rap song that was praised for its scientific accuracy – if little else.

“You see particles flying, in jets they spray. But you notice there ain’t nothin’, goin’ the other way,” they rap.

“You say: ‘My law has just been violated – it don’t make sense! There’s gotta be another particle to make this balance’.”

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the Moon, also released a rap song this year.

“Rocket Experience”, recorded with some help from rap artist Snoop Dogg, commemorated the 40th anniversary of the first manned mission to land on the Moon.

Crash landing?

In it, Buzz intones, “I am the space man”, adding: “It’s time to venture far, let’s take a trip to Mars. Our destiny is to the stars.”

The song was intended to convey the excitement of the Apollo era to a younger generation. But Andrew Harrison, associate editor of music magazine Word, is doubtful:

“I don’t think we can call that a giant leap for hip-hop,” he told BBC News. But he understands why Buzz and others turn to music in an attempt to convey the wonder of science.

“Scientists can feel a little unappreciated, in that there’s this incredible stuff that they’re discovering that is difficult to bring to popular attention. But what it does prove is that music is difficult,” says Mr Harrison.

There are even songs dedicated to palaeontological discoveries. Jonathan Mann wrote a song about the discovery of a 4.4 million-year-old human-like creature called Ardipithecus ramidus, which might be a human ancestor.

The chorus goes: “Oh! Ardipithecus ramidus, Ardipithecus ramidus, She’s related to all of us!”

Scientists are not just using music to inform the public, but also – in time-honoured fashion – to campaign.

‘Don’t take our dish’

The tune “Don’t go messing with our Telescope” was released last year by The Astronomers to fight the closure of the famous Jodrell Bank Telescope in Cheshire, UK.

“And every day we live in hope, don’t go messing with our telescope, don’t take our dish, you’ll leave a black hole,” the verse implores.

A composition in an advert by Bio-Rad Laboratories set what was regarded as a high water mark in science music.

The video features a well-produced parody of “We are the World” with cameos from Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Bee Gees sound-alikes.

It is dedicated to a technique – called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) – which enables researchers to make millions of copies of short sequences of genetic material.

It has transformed molecular biology. So, argue the scientists, why not celebrate science with the same gusto as one might celebrate sport in a football song?

“PCR when you need to detect mutation (detect mutation), PCR when you need to recombine (recombine), PCR when you need to find out who the daddy is (who’s your daddy?), PCR when you need to solve a crime (solve a crime),” goes the refrain.


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