Using music as a medium to teach science: what Rebecca Black and Lin-Manuel Miranda can teach us about science education

by Anna Zeidman In 2013, I diligently, eagerly learned the complete anatomy of the human skeleton. Today, I can barely recall the parts of the hip bone, much less identify their features. In 2011, Rebecca Black released her now infamous music video, "Friday." Five years later, I still can’t get through a Friday without thinking of Rebecca Black “kickin’ in the front seat.” Whether we like it or not, pop music is powerful. We describe pop music as “catchy” and call songs “earworms." Often against our wishes, music sticks with us.  But for every cringe-worthy teeny bopper hit we can’t get out of our heads, there is a musical gem that resonates with us so deeply that we can’t help but listen to it on repeat for days. Broadway sensation Hamilton won a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations by “changing the language of musicals” and “insisting that the forms of song most frequently heard on pop radio stations in recent years — rap, hip-hop, R&B ballads — have both the narrative force and the emotional interiority to propel a hefty musical about long-dead white men whose solemn faces glower from the green bills in our wallets (Ben Brantley, NYTimes)." Going further, Hamilton creator

Wiley Schubert Reed’s argument for the arts

by Wiley Schubert Reed Credit: Bill McConkey, Wellcome Images This is part of an ongoing series that aims to introduce young, aspiring scientists to topics that spark their curiosity. New York City high school student Wildman S. R. explored how art drives the creation of technologies that improve people's lives. More than 2,500 of the world’s leading business, government, academic and cultural influencers gathered this past January in Davos, Switzerland to discuss how new and emerging technologies will revolutionize humanity. World Economic Forum (WEF) Founder Klaus Schwab describes this Fourth Industrial Revolution as “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” Moreover, Schwab asserts, “there has never been a time of greater promise, or greater potential peril.” New technologies have the power to change the world for the better, but also for the worse. Gene editing technologies like CRISPR have the potential to cure genetic diseases, but also create the possibility for bio engineered eugenics (The CRISPR Quandary). As digital networks expand and intertwine, the chance for cataclysmic systems failure expands as well: a single hack or act of cyber terror could shut down the power or crash the markets of

Paths to Communication: Heather Berlin

by Maryam Zaringhalam A quick Google search of “science communication” will return a smattering of results ranging from hit television shows to community-based science outreach and education organizations. But what exactly could a career in science communication look like and how can we pursue one? I’ve become familiar with science communicators and organizations doing really incredible work to get the general public engaged and excited about science. I’ve watched their videos, tuned in to their podcasts, and attended their events. They’ve inspired me with their passion and poise and filled my mind with ideas. With that said, if science has taught me anything, it’s that the process is at least as important as the final product. To learn about their paths, from initial inspirations and lessons learned to plans for the future, I have begun to reach out to the science communicators I so admire. Another valuable lesson, courtesy of science, is that all my research would be for naught if I did not share it with my peers. For this reason, The Incubator has kindly carved out some space to feature Paths to Communication: a regular interview series with some stellar communicators of science. Dr. Heather Berlin Starting us

ArtLab: In Translation

by Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab Given that artists + scientists employ similar approaches to developing their work and that this work is often presented in very similar mediums, it has eluded me for quite some time why art and science are generally thought of as being incompatible. As a result, in December 2012 I launched ArtLab :: The Series to provide a physical space for artists + scientists to come together to talk about their respective crafts, using art as a lens to focus a conversation about science. The ultimate goal is to spark collaborations between these two traditionally disparate communities, using the strengths of each to inform and compliment the other. To get us thinking about our work in a different context with a different set of tools at our disposal. On May 24, 2013, ArtLab presented In Translation: an inside look at the practice of art and science featuring insights from the insightful Gabrielle Rabinowitz, a molecular neurobiologist at the Rockefeller University + senior editor // regular contributor for The Incubator, and Dylan Zavagno, a Brooklyn-based poet. With the much-appreciated help of co-moderator Rachel Broderick [co-founder // creative director of Brooklyn-based mixed-media arts company Our Ladies] and our ever-enthusiastic

Living in 3D // Real-D

by Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab The most outrageous-seeming science fiction constructions have a rather amazing longstanding habit of becoming reality. It’s actually almost impossible [for me at least] to imagine that in the not-so distant past space travel // robots // the Internet existed solely in the imaginations of sci-fi writers + consumers. Despite being a Millennial, well-versed + up-to-date in the latest-and-greatest innovations and gadgetry, I can't help but have my mind utterly blown each time science fiction becomes fact. My latest obsession? 3D PRINTING. 3D printing blood vessel networks out of sugar using the Rep Rap at University of Pennsylvania. As its name suggests, 3D printing creates an object from a three-dimensional digital model, known as a CAD [Computer-Aided Design] file. To print a 3D product out of this virtual blueprint, the CAD file is sliced into a series of 2D cross-sections. Successive slices are printed, stacked, and fused one on top of the other much like a standard inkjet printer, but instead of ink, 3D printer cartridges deposit drops of materials like rubber, plastics, metals, and more. Because 3D objects are printed + stacked layer by layer from the ground up, 3D printing is often referred to as

Skulls and Specimens: The Mütter Museum is Weird and Worth It

By Claire Warriner, @CLWarriner Main Gallery of The Mutter Museum This April, I found myself in Philadelphia as a guest at the wedding of two people I’d never met. In addition to stuffing myself with crab Rangoon and avoiding eye contact with the groom’s mother, I visited the gruesomely fascinating Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Often described as a museum of oddities, this three-room space houses the extensive anatomical and pathological collection of Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, a plastic surgeon who was active in the city between 1841 and 1850. Hyrtl Skull Collection Compare and Contrast: Giant, dwarf, and average human skeletons. The most visually striking feature of the museum is The Hyrtl Skull Collection. Each skull is accompanied by a small handwritten note card that reads more like a turn-of-the-century novella than a medical history: “Prague, Araschtau Gottlieb, age 19, Suicide by potassium cyanide because of suspected unfaithfulness of his mistress, Right supraorbital notch, long nasal aperture.” The display also contains a so-called “hydrocephalic imbecile” with an unsettlingly offset jaw, and a disproportionate number of “gypsy” skulls, perhaps mirroring the entrenched racism of the time. Opposite this display are a set of

Aesthetically Speaking

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab A couple weeks ago, I sat in on a lecture at Columbia University that addressed four open questions in computer science. To be perfectly honest, due to a rather severe case of jet lag and a certain rustiness where math is concerned, I quickly lost interest as the professor began to delve deeper into the mathematics behind each problem. What struck me most about his talk, however, was what brought him to these problems in the first place. For him, these computational conundrums are quite simply “beautiful questions." The winner of Northwestern University's "Capturing the Beauty of Science" competition. Graphene oxide. Image by Andrea Towers. Science-speak is laden with the language of aesthetics. We evaluate our hypotheses + theories in terms of their simplicity // symmetry // unity—by any criteria that distills the chaotic nature of the world around us into a simple assertion—and call them elegant [e=mc2 // evolution by natural selection]. We deem our supporting evidence—our figures, graphs, microscopic movies—downright gorgeous when they succinctly support our claims, while simultaneously appealing to our visual sensibilities. We even have the overwhelming compulsion to turn our work into a neatly packaged narrative, weaving our data

Fractaled Atlas

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab fractals in nature. snail shell // milky way // leaf veins // motor neuron No matter where we look in the natural world, we are sure to find recurring patterns. As a result, natural scientists devote their careers to [humbly] attempt to find and define these very patterns. The most abundant of these natural motifs is arguably the fractal—a geometric structure that can be subdivided into smaller parts that look roughly similar to the whole. Take the branching pattern of the veins on a leaf as an example: zoom into one of those branches, and you'll find that it's reminiscent of the overarching branching structure // zoom into one of those branches' branches and you'll find the same thing... over and over again! At their core, fractals are simply the geometric result of repeating the same pattern over and over at a smaller and smaller scale—increasingly tiny patterns within a greater overarching motif. But fractals are the ultimate paradox. Though they are built on simple repetitions, they are infinitely complex. You can subdivide // zoom in // subdivide // zoom in and you'll still see the same [or similar] patterns emerging and repeating with

Evolution by Aesthetic Design

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab Biological evolution is the change in gene frequencies in populations over successive generations through forces like mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. But at its most basic conceptual level, evolution is simply change over time. Since life is not stagnant, but perpetually moving forward, we can make analogies between evolution and just about anything we experience. But how can we use these analogies to glean something meaningful about our experiences? In an experiment called DarwinTunes, bioinformatician Robert MacCallum at Imperial College London put the analogy into practice in an attempt to evolve music from noise.  By applying basic evolutionary principles, he hoped to gain some insight into what aural // aesthetic forces underlie audience experience of music. For musical evolution to proceed, MacCullum and his team first generated a population of noises—the origin for [Darwinian] musicality to come. Because the origin of life was devoid of any human intervention, they used an algorithm to generate a series of computer programs, or "digital genomes," thereby limiting their influence on the generative process. Just as our DNA genomes hold all the information needed to build us, each program specifies how to build a particular short sound loop by determining

Creativity is Cool (Happy Birthday Charles Darwin)

By Emily Jane Dennis,@emilyjanedennis Creativity is cool. Today is Darwin’s birthday. Instead of talking about his life or how he made everything in biology make sense, I want to talk about two of his drawings. Darwin’s first (left, 1837) and final (right, 1859) evolutionary trees These two drawings, separated by 22 years, are a perfect illustration of the creative process in scientific thought. On the left is the first ever evolutionary tree, and on the right is Darwin’s final tree from On the Origin of Species.When he sketched out this first tree, Darwin had already spent years coming up with and expanding on his idea of transmutation (what we call evolution). I think about this drawing as a proof, a way to visually evaluate what he had been mulling over for so many years. He used this figure to take a bunch of independent thoughts and pull them together to address one big question: how do the species we see today relate to species that existed in the distant past? I like to believe that the “I think” above Darwin’s first tree drawing is a glimpse into his inner-critic. It was written by that doubting voice inside his head, urging him to find


By Emily Jane Dennis @emilyjanedennis I have (so far!) two degrees: a B.S. in Molecular Genetics and a B.A. in Studio Arts. In college, I spent a lot of time at the lab and in class, but all of my free time was spent at Sage Art Center: home, sweet home(Sage Art Center) I did everything at Sage. I met all of my friends at Sage, I took classes there, I met awesome professors there, I made art there, and I even snuck in after hours. I was a Sage addict. I made mistakes at Sage. I listened to music too loud there, I got into pointless arguments there, and I made a fool of myself there... more than once. I grew up at Sage. What kept me coming back was the incredible creative energy I felt every time I walked in the door. People were always trying something new, something interesting. We failed a lot, but we kept trying, kept coming back, and kept sneaking in to work all night on our projects. In the end, we had created something... and sometimes, it was really good. This is the same thing that I love about being a