The basic challenge of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s song contest is to convince kids that science is cool. But this begs the question: why exactly is science cool? My simplistic idea is that most people who like science are either curious about how the natural world works or attracted to the method by which scientific advances are made (or both). Thus, in composing my contest entry, I tried to appeal to both types of people, posing questions that kids might find interesting (sample lyric: “I have a mobile phone; does it cause cancer?”) while also emphasizing the process by which these questions are investigated (“I don’t know, but I have a guess, and I’ll test my hypothesis…”). I hope this approach effectively counters the stereotype that science is simply a collection of facts.
Another stereotype I tried to address is that scientists are old, bald guys who dress funny. (This has been revealed most vividly through the Draw-A-Scientist Test.) In case anyone is inclined to reject science because of the perceived dress code, the song advises, “You don’t need a lab coat or big goggles all the time; just get into the data and into a scientific state of mind.”
I also wanted to convey the idea that science is a powerful tool for making sense of the world, yet does not have ALL the answers. Hence lines like “Life can be confusing; science makes it clearer” (as opposed to “science makes it perfectly clear”) and “When you’re seeking answers, science brings them nearer” (as opposed to “science brings them to your door within 24 hours”).
Yet another challenge of writing the song was trying to represent all of science and engineering without relying solely on vague generalizations. I included questions from areas like chemistry (“My bike may start to rust; can I prevent that?”), archaeology (“Is this a chicken bone, or something fancier?”), and nutrition (“Our bones need phosphorus; how do we get that?”) to provide a sense of breadth. I also tried for a mix of “pure” and “applied” science, as exemplified by the opening couplet (“The earth goes ’round the sun, but can you prove it? This desk has chewing gum; what will remove it?”).
My final challenge, as previously mentioned, was finding someone to create a polished arrangement and recording from my lyrics and melody. In the end, I was very fortunate to hook up with David Newman, who envisioned a Glee-style a cappella tune and put it together essentially by himself. He did a fantastic job, in my opinion; now we’ll see what the judges think.