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Take a quantum leap
Watch — and listen — as physics unfold before your eyes, thanks to Symphony of Science, an educational series.
Never has the concept of quantum mechanics – the mathematical branch of physics dealing with microscopic particles – seemed more entertaining or undeniably catchy than as presented by John Boswell.
He’s the 25-year-old mash-up maestro behind Symphony of Science, the educational video series that turns scientific postulating into unexpected pop songs. It’s like a multimedia version of DJ Girl Talk for the classroom, the antithesis of the band Insane Clown Posse’s video, “Miracles.”
The 11-part series has garnered nearly 17 million views at last count, while Boswell’s YouTube channel, MelodySheep, has attracted more than 80,000 subscribers. Symphony of Science has garnered near-universal acclaim, ranging from Carl Sagan’s son Nick Sagan to Sleater-Kinney co-founder and NPR host Carrie Brownstein.
The Symphony’s latest ode, “The Quantum World!” uploaded to YouTube yesterday, opens with an Auto-Tuned introduction by actor Morgan Freeman, copped from Through the Wormhole and set to Boswell’s electro-pop instrumental, before a collage of cosmic revelations unfold, with sources ranging from BBC documentaries to Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking
“Inspiration for the videos will strike at random moments and usually they grow out of little nuggets of music I play around with for fun,” said Boswell, who cited the remixes that started popping up online several years ago of Carl Sagan’s audio book, Pale Blue Dot, as a prime influence.
Each installment can take up to two months to produce. Thankfully, Boswell says, the series is primarily a fan-funded operation, with donations being made through Paypal. Supporters can also name-their-price for a bundled version of the Symphony of Science series or its light-hearted spin-off, Remixes for the Soul, which puts a similar twist on more comedic material, such as Ali G’s “A Science Rap” and George Carlin’s “Save the Trees.”
“I have come to rely on fans and followers to show me new source materials for the remixes, and I interact with them at least weekly through various social networks,” said Boswell. “The fans have been a huge help in culling all sorts of material that goes into the videos. On the forums on my main site, I try to encourage people that suggest ideas and find new clips. I don’t respond to every post, but I do read all of them and appreciate all the input and suggestions.”
Boswell’s supporters have helped put there own stamp on the series as well. More than 30 remixes by fans have been posted to his website, all of which are available for free download.
“The most inspiring feedback I’ve received is from students and teachers who feel reinvigorated to pursue science in their careers after watching the videos,” said Boswell. “I’m honored to have influenced them in any way. Some of the educators I’ve communicated with say that the videos are a great way to break the ice introducing scientific concepts to students who may not be immediately interested in the subject.”
That interest sparked Boswell’s most recent project, a collaboration with the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, a nonprofit organization that creates and oversees national programs for science- and technology-based education, supported by the Tides Center.
“What John has now done through his music videos to bring [Carl] Sagan to a new generation is remarkable,” wrote Jeff Goldstein, the director of the center.
Uploaded late last month, the first video, “We’ve Got to Be That Light – A Gift to America’s Teachers,” is essentially a public service announcement, a sincere back-to-school booster based on Goldsteing’s keynote address at the National Science Teachers Association’s national conference in March.
A second installment, tentatively titled “A Sense of Majesty,” is in the works, along with a global version of “We’ve Got to be That Light.” The series is already showing signs of success, with more than 17,000 views to date. Some teachers have even created their own slideshow remixes, adding their personal classroom photos to accompany the Boswell’s composition.
“I will share this video with my new and returning educators at our first staff meeting of the school year to remind them of our journey together to educate every child, and their role in that journey,” wrote Patricia Wilson, the director of the Little Flower Day Care Center and Preparatory School in Brooklyn, NY. “The video is a great reminder of why we chose to be teachers in the first place. Thanks for the enlightenment!”
Austin Powell is the former managing editor of the Daily Dot. His work focuses on the intersection of entertainment and technology. He previously served as a music columnist for the Austin Chronicle and is the co-author of The Austin Chronicle Music Anthology.