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The Sciences

Physics Hit Parade

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To the tune of “My Favorite Things,” from The Sound of Music:

Metals and alloys and things electronic / High-tech ceramics whose bonds are ionic / Polymer structures with long carbon strings / These are a few of my favorite things. / Superconductors and metallic glasses / Semiconductors and bronzes and brasses / Fiber composites for strong airplane wings / These are a few of my favorite things. 

The web is alive with the sounds of physicists. Many have turned a songwriting pastime into a cottage industry—and their songs about physics are flowering in cyberspace in the form of downloadable MP3 files, lyrics sheets, albums, and Web sites listing titles like “Ferromagnetic Love,” “Coupled Oscillators,” and “Snell’s Law—Macarena Style!”

Although some songs are composed to entertain colleagues, most are intended to energize classrooms. “It’s pretty clear that physics is the science that students struggle with the most,” says Walter Smith, a Haverford College electronics professor and Webmaster of www.physicssongs.org, a clearinghouse devoted to the genre. Besides, he says, looking a little silly in front of students makes professors approachable.

Smith’s site includes a searchable database of 185 songs, short histories, and links to other Web sites, including the all-science Web radio station Massive, an acronym for “Math and Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere.” “The connection between music and math is very strong, and physics is more wound up in math than the other sciences,” Smith says, adding that with free-spirited eccentrics like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman as their role models, “maybe physicists feel a little more free to be kooky.”

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