Class serenades the public with songs of science

Not only is science taught in Science and Society 42, it is also sung, hummed, poetically read, rapped and serenaded by UC Davis students for their final exam.

Not only is science taught in Science and Society 42, it is also sung, hummed, poetically read, rapped and serenaded by UC Davis students for their final exam.

This past Tuesday, students in SAS 042 – Earth, Water, Science and Song – performed songs and raps as part of their final for their class. For an hour, students sang 10 songs ranging from scientific topics such as the water cycle to a love rap ballad between artist Frida Kahlo and Albert Einstein.

“The performance was extraordinary,” said Diane Ullman, professor of entomology and co-director of the Art and Science Fusion program. “It was thrilling as a co-director to see art and science come together in such a fantastic way. It brings life to the topics.”

With 34 Aggies in the class, students broke off into groups. Since no musical talent is required, groups used their individual talents to either create an original song or borrow a tune and change the lyrics. Some performances even had choreographed dances or involved musical instruments.

Many of the songs were original pieces of work, while others were modified. For example, “Water in Our World,” was adapted by the John Mayer song “Daughters” instead discussed water quality. Instead of “so fathers be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do,” the students sang “so bother to care for your water, cause water sustains all we do.”

The class will be having an encore performance on Friday, Mar. 12 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Pence Gallery at 212 D street.

Taught by professor Wendy Silk, the class teaches non-science majors about water and soil science while incorporating the scientific concepts into songs and poetry. Students have lecture twice a week and studio time once a week.

“It is my hope that [performing] will allow [the students] to experience the emotional power of the arts while helping them master the science,” Silk said.

SAS 42 first began in winter of 2008 as a freshman seminar and became a regular class a year later. It started with Silk casually mentioning the possibility of a class that sang instead of took finals to the department chair Jan Hopmans. She took the conversation seriously and encouraged Silk to try out her idea.

“The course could not have happened without the inspiration and support of Diane Ullman,” Silk said.

This class is one of three in UC Davis’s Art/Science Fusion program, a series that blends different sciences with visual arts, photography and music. Each replaces a final with either a final performance or show to display the students’ work throughout the quarter. The National Science Foundation has shown interest in UC Davis’s efforts in incorporating the arts with the sciences and awarded an incubator grant to bring music to the study of biology, Silk said.

“The expansion of the program is dependent entirely on faculty interest in teaching these courses,” Ullman said.

Brie-anna Rojas, a senior animal biology and environmental biology and management double major, decided to take the class because she believes that it is important to spread scientific awareness to the common person.

“I feel like this class, this Art and Science Fusion program, is an excellent way to use creative methods for communicating science to the general public and reaching out to people of all age groups,” Rojas said. “Even little kids can pick up on catchy songs and if we can infuse those songs with important scientific information, we can help them enjoy learning.”

Other students joined the class because of recommendations from previous participants.

“I took this class based on a recommendation from a friend who took it last year,” said Matt Kronzer, a senior English and comparative literature double major. “I came in with some concerns that I’d be in over my head but I’ve been able to keep up to speed with everything we’ve covered.”

To those students interested in the class, Kronzer has some advice.

“I’ve never before seen a class that attempted to so closely blend science and song. I would highly recommend this class to everyone, even if you’ve finished all your GRE requirements,” he said. “Take this class, you won’t regret it.”

NICK MARKWITH can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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    […] an interdisciplinary elective course in which students create songs about environmental science. A 2010 article in the California Aggie provides further context, but the course may best be experienced via a webcast of […]

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