symmetry magazine

dimensions of particle physics

dimensions of particle physics

A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

 

Fermilab in the house: the Original Gangsta atom smasher gets its own rap

August 12, 2009

Fermilab in the house: the Original Gangsta atom smasher gets its own rap

"...rock stars of physics, particle business
smash matter, antimatter and witness
quarks, bottom to top they don't stop
‘where the Higgs at?' yo that's their mark
‘where the Higgs at?' "

- Funky49, "Particle Business"

Funky49 debuts a rap about Fermilab

Funky49 debuts a rap about Fermilab

Check it: sick rhymes and sweet beats meet hardcore science. Physics rap is in the house.

Before you say, "I've heard that before," listen up--this isn't the Large Hadron Rap, the surprise sensation that's logged more than 5 million views on YouTube. There's a brand-new riff on particle physics, created by rapper and science enthusiast Funky49, a.k.a. Steven Rush.  It's called the Fermilab Rap, or "Particle Business," and it's a tad slicker and a touch edgier than any physics rap you've heard before.

"I didn't want to do a facsimile of the LHC rap," Rush explained before the rap's premier performance Tuesday at Fermilab. "I wanted Fermilab to have its own voice."

So did Ben Kilminster, a physicist on Fermilab's CDF experiment and singer in CDF's resident rock band, the Drug Sniffing Dogs. He read about Rush's previous project, an album promoting the Museum of Science and Industry in the artist's native city of Tampa, Florida, and suggested that the rapper turn his creative energy toward America's leading particle accelerator.

"It's true that the main motivation was to compete with the LHC rap, but overall I think just think it's a fun addition," Kilminster said. "Some people will never want to watch it, but for others, it might be the only way they learn something about Fermilab."

With Kilminster's encouragement and the backing of Fermilab's Office of Communication, Rush dove head-first into the project. He drew inspiration from popular chart-topping rappers and The Atom Smashers documentary about the race between Fermilab and the European particle physics laboratory CERN to find the Higgs boson particle. Rap aficionados will recognize nods to rap's common phrases, like OG, or original gangsta, and themes, such as a battle for superiority. Science enthusiasts will discover that scientific accuracy and head-bobbing rhymes can coexist and recognize comments on the state of science funding.

Funky49 will film a music video for the piece this week at Fermilab with help of the producer of Nerdcore for Life, a documentary about the growing trend in science- and technology-based rap music.

Before giving Fermilab scientists and local media a taste of the video to come, Funky49 spent a few minutes schooling them on the benefits of using rap in science outreach.

"Rap is very accessible to both the listener and the creator," Rush said. "It started with people dancing on the street, and that's still the spirit of it. It's very adaptable. And the rhyme is catchy."

While rhyme is close to Rush's heart, so is high-energy physics. He's proud to say that he owes his day job as a computer specialist at a radiobiology company to superconducting magnets.

"But most people don't know that we have MRIs because particle physicists developed those magnets," he laments. "I think we need to use as many communication avenues as possible to tell people about science. If they know how many useful applications come out of physics research, they'll be a lot more interested in supporting it."

Rush especially hopes his rap will reach people who don't already have an ear for science. "One of my goals is to get people who are into hip-hop to just get into the sound. If they like the song, maybe they'll want to hear another one, and maybe eventually they'll find an article to read."

And what about people who think physics rap is silly, or just a passing fad? Rush shrugs them off.

"There are always gonna be haters," he says. "If the appeal is partly in the novelty, so be it. The point is that, for the time being, it's getting people informed and excited."

by Rachel Carr

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