Stanford’s Long Tradition Of Laughing At Itself
Feb03

Stanford’s Long Tradition Of Laughing At Itself

What you’ve just watched is the latest in a long line of “skits” dreamed up by grad students in the chemistry department at Stanford University. Each year, just before the holidays, first-year Ph.D. candidates at Stanford are tasked with entertaining the chemistry department by poking fun at themselves as well as at faculty. Until recently, that meant writing scripts and acting out live skits as a prelude to a holiday meal. But with the advent of YouTube, the tradition—called Chemwipes—has been translated to video clips that the first years unveil during the end-of-year celebration. Jessica R. Vargas, a first-year chemistry student at Stanford and cochair of this year’s video production team, says the video format makes the presentation of the skits go more smoothly, with fewer interruptions. Even better, she adds, “the videos have the potential to be more widely disseminated than live skits.” The double rainbow parody you watched above is just one of a crop of videos released by Vargas’ team this year. All told, she and fellow Chemwipes chair Nick Plugis, put together 17 videos for the holiday party, held Dec. 9. “We spent a significant amount of time honing our ideas and working to incorporate as many willing participants as we could,” Vargas says. Fifteen first-year grad students took part, as well as about 40 chemistry undergrads and 9 faculty members. The tradition “is definitely intended to be a bonding experience for first years—an indoctrination of sorts,” Plugis says. During video editing, the grad students certainly have time to bond. According to Vargas, the brainstorming and video-editing sessions are quite demanding. “I think it’s a rule of thumb that for every minute of video you produce, you spend at least an hour editing,” she says. “It was a lot of work.” One of this year’s videos, in particular, has received a lot of attention and certainly got loud applause when it was unveiled at Stanford. “I’m a Chemist and I know it” is a parody of electro-pop duo LMFAO’s music video “Sexy and I know it.” Newscripts first came across the Chemwipes clip over at Chembark’s blog here. The video, with more than 230,000 hits, is popular because of its accessibility, says Plugis, who came up with the lyrics and idea for it (NOTE: Added 2/6/12, Plugis had a cowriter, Darren Finkelstein). “My hope is that these videos will attract more people to chemistry by dissipating the myth that science is all work and no play,” he adds. Not all chemistry faculty members at Stanford are thrilled about the Chemwipes tradition at Stanford, says professor Richard Zare. “Some faculty and staff have been 'bent out of...

Read More