Wednesday, September 23, 2009

YouTubilicious: Science and Entertainment

This week, I attended a press preview of the new digital show, Journey to the Stars, at the California Academy of Sciences' Morrison Planetarium (billed as "the largest all-digital planetarium in the world") - the show officially opens on September 26. The stunning images, of the Orion Nebula (see picture), the Milky Way, and the spiderweb paths of satellites that criss-cross the earth, were created based on the latest astronomical data.

As the show zoomed through images of the solar system, showing how it might have looked 13 billion years ago and ending with a projection of the sun's demise 5 billion years from now, portentous music swelled in the background. The narrator on this galactic tour? Whoopi Goldberg.

I like Whoopi Goldberg; she's smart, funny, and sassy, as was her planetarium narration. But it's hard for me to imagine the stand-up comedien, The View co-host, and star of Sister Act seriously pondering the origin of the universe or the magnetic fields of Saturn.

On the other hand, a low-tech, soporific, Carl Sagan-esque explanation of how stars are formed might not be the right approach to teaching science to the public. I remember visiting Chicago's Adler Planetarium in Chicago with friends in high school many years ago - bright future alumni of MIT, Brown University, and the United States Naval Academy, among other schools - and watching them doze off one by one in the darkened room as the image of Orion the Hunter was superimposed over the constellation of Orion's Belt on the ceiling.

Science doesn't have to be boring, especially with the new technologies available today. If Pixar studios can give a desk lamp a sparkling personality with computer animation, why can't science be presented in a more engaging way? Maybe a little more entertainment is just what the doctor ordered. With that in mind, here are my favorite, toe-tapping music videos about my two most recent obsessions: swine flu (novel H1N1) and health care reform.

Dr. John D. Clarke, FAAFP, won a recent public service announcement contest sponsored by the department of Health and Human Services with his "H1N1 Rap". Who knew that HHS could be so hip?

In response to data that ranked the United States 37th in the world for the quality of its health care, Paul Hipp wrote the rock-and-roll song "We're Number 37", proving that you really can write a song about anything.