Physics for the masses, one song at a time | The Grainger College of Engineering

Excerpts from the podcast

Daniel: I’d like to start off by saying how much I enjoyed watching Condensed Matter Girl! And by the way, I worked with your co-writer, Smitha Vishveshwara, on a science-art piece, and she has this amazing ability to fuse art and science; and to reveal their mutual connections. What was it like working with Smitha and bringing everyone together to film all of this?

Maggie: We had a blast putting it together. When we came up with this idea to create Condensed Matter Girl, we sent a smattering of emails to a number of condensed matter faculty. Smitha was very interested in collaborating not only on participating in being in the video, but also in potentially writing some verses.

The great thing is that Smitha brought this condensed matter theory approach, which wasn’t something that we had represented. We brainstormed about some of the foundational moments in her career where she felt like she had a major contribution as a woman in condensed matter theory; and she tried to then knit those into some of the chorus lines.

Daniel: Let me take both of you to Fall 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, when you both joined the Physics Department. The world went through a major change in early 2020, and you both had to adapt to different teaching practices by moving lessons online. Maggie, during this time, you created the Covid-19 parody of Smash Mouth’s all-starand you changed it—the title at least—to Quarantine All Star. Could you tell me a bit about that experience?

Maggie: During that time everybody was really scared and panicked about what was going to happen with this pandemic. This is where I turned to one of my hobbies. We were stuck at home. We were worried. But we had music. And I knew that I had the capability to create a video that might be able to speak to some of the feelings that everybody was having at the time. And the timing was right, because it was the wrap up to the semester for my learning assistant pedagogy course section. I wanted to do something special for them as I had done in past years for my high school students. And this was the end of my first academic year as an instructor in the physics department. I thought hard about what I wanted to do. And it was really a message to the students that it was all going to be okay, and we’re all in this together.

Daniel: Fahad, it was around this time that you made your debut in one of Maggie’s music videos. I thought the lyrics for your video Research in the MRLwhich is a parody of Miley Cyrus’s Party in the USA, were so inventive and fun. What was it like to finally make a music video together?

Fahad: I think in terms of integrating the science, the whole idea for this came about because we were very isolated at home. It was a busy time, and I’d always envision that by the end of my first year, I was going to throw a lab-warming party for the Materials Research Lab and the physics department here; just as a way of thanking them, the research staff and the staff scientists, who’d been spectacular by helping me going into the first year.

But then COVID happened, right? So, then you’re like, “Oh, we can’t have a lab-warming party.” I was talking to Maggie, and she said, “What can we do for MRL and also have my students involved in a group activity?” And Maggie, as brilliant as she is, was like, “Let’s make a music video together!”

It was a great process. My graduate students, who had also been in quarantine, were sort of struggling and getting started on their physics Ph.Ds. They worked with Maggie to tell their stories, of what they wanted to say with issues like inclusion in science and diversity.

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