In Print: How To Be A Cool Scientist

In a sick twist of evolutionary fate, the stereotypical scientist has been deemed uncool by society. But now, hip-hop artist and playwright Baba Brinkman is attempting to bring science to the public through a teenager-approved vehicle: rap music. As Associate Editor Corinna Wu writes in this week's column, Brinkman raps about brainy topics such as "The Canterbury Tales" and Darwin's theory of evolution. His latest track, "Revenge of the Somatic," is rapped from the point of view of a cancer cell, which he considers a good entry point into his long-term plan of producing a rap guide to medicine. Corinna first heard Brinkman perform at the 2012 International Conference on Neuroesthetics, in Berkeley, Calif. (Watch above.) "He performed songs from his 'Rap Guide to Evolution,' accompanied by some entertaining slides," she says. "At the breaks, he would perform very funny, 'wrap-up' raps riffing on the content of the other talks. He was mobbed by people buying his CDs and asking to get them autographed." Autographs, guys. Seriously, get on this rap train. One of Corinna's favorite Brinkman songs is "I’m a African" (yes, that’s the title, Corinna says). It’s a remake of a song by a gangsta hip-hop duo called Dead Prez, she explains. Dead Prez originally meant the song to be a black nationalist anthem—an exclusionary song—but the duo unwittingly wrote an all-inclusive song, because all of our human ancestors originated in Africa. Brinkman changed the lyrics to highlight that point, and he even managed to get the Berkeley conference's diverse attendees to pump their fists in the air and shout the “I’m a African!” chorus along with him, she recalls. You a African? You a African?/Do you know what’s happenin’?/I’m a African, I’m a African/Geneticists know what’s happenin’ ... Coolness factor, we're tellin' ya. For her next Newscripts item, Corinna wrote about something distinctly uncool for rappers: pearls. "I suspected that pearls would not be a rapper’s bling of choice, but I wanted to check," say says. A little Internet digging led her to a blogger who had polled hip-hop artists on why they don't wear pearls. One artist said: "I don’t care if I had a 100-perfectly-round-beaded-natural-pearl-necklace, with a market value of $8,000,000. I won’t wear it. I look cute already and I’m trying like hell to project a hardcore thug mentality. It's bad enough that a few people know I graduated from Harvard." Harvard is uncool, got it. Scientists in Spain who probably didn't get that memo recently published a model that explains why some pearls are spherical. Not all pearls are spherical, Corinna points out, including the irregularly shaped baroque pearls. So it does make you wonder how some oysters manage to make perfectly round ones, she says. Turns out, the researchers discovered that the outer layer of nacre on nascent pearls form a series of parallel steps on the surface, which creates a natural ratchet. When nacre-forming compounds react with these steps, the researchers propose, the energy released heats water molecules that bounce around and rotate the pearl evenly, creating its spherical shape. Corinna herself has some pearl jewelry—she can forget her rap career—that she wears for special occasions. But now that she's learned that a pearl turns once every 20 or so days and that it can take six months to three years for a pearl to be ready for harvest, she has all the more appreciation of their value.

Author: Sophia Cai

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2 Comments

  1. Or you could explode lots of stuff like the Mythbusters team like doing. They singlehandedly made physics cool again!

  2. Ever since Harvard rejected me, I’ve always tried telling myself that the school is uncool. Glad to hear their alumni think the same thing 🙂