Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Song of the Geological Lecturer (Intended for the use of Cambridge Professors)

Geology’s a noble thing
To teach in Alma Mater,
So straight I will proceed to sing
The earth and all its strata.
Of peat and chalk I’ve much to say,
Of limestone, sand, and gypsum;
‘Twill teach the student made of clay,
Cognoscere se ipsum.

Granite and rock are hard, I own,
To youths at school or college;
Bit then there’s nought so good as stone
To form the road to knowledge.
My pupils now I’ll bid adieu,
I’m not disposed to weary ‘em,
And in my next I’ll take a view
Of Buckland’s Megatherium.

Punch 10 (1846), p. 240.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Elements

(© 1959, Lehrer Records.)

Tune: "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General"

There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold, protactinium and indium and gallium,
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium.

There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium,
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium,
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium, and barium.

There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium.
And lead, praseodymium, and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
And tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium,
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.

There's sulfur, californium, and fermium, berkelium,
And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc, and rhodium,
And chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin, and sodium.

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Ha'vard,
And there may be many others, but they haven't been discavard.

Hear it here.

Updated: Another YouTube video, using Google Instant Search, is available here.

"Hail to the IBM" (The IBM Anthem)

Lift up our proud and loyal voices,
Sing out in accents strong and true,
With hearts and hands to you devoted,
And inspiration ever new;
Your ties of friendship cannot sever,
Your glory time will never stem,
We will toast a name that lives forever,
Hail to the I.B.M.

Our voices swell in admiration;
Of T. J. Watson proudly sing;
He'll ever be our inspiration,
To him our voices loudly ring;
The I.B.M. will sing the praises,
Of him who brought us world acclaim,
As the volume of our chorus raises,
Hail to his honored name.

Hear it here.

Words by Fred W. Tappe; Music by Vittorio Giannini. Sung at the banquet of the 1938 Hundred Percent Club, May 4th, 1939. Further details here.

The Grand Darwininan Theory

(Air: The King of the Cannibal Islands, Allegretto)

Oh! have you heard the news of late,
About our great original state?
If you have not, I will relate
The grand Darwinian theory.

Take care as you saunter along the street,
How you tread on the dust beneath your feet:
You may crush a cherub in embryo sweet,
For each atom may hold a germ complete,

Which, by some mystical process slow,
And selective power, to a monkey may grow,
And from that to a man, the truth to show
Of the grand Darwinian theory.


Oh! hokey, pokey, Kanyuwan,

From nothing to something, from monkey to man.
Oh! this is the great developing plan,
Of the grand Darwinian theory.

The beginning of all was a little cell,
Composed of what substance no one can tell,
Endowed with a power to develop and swell
Into general life by this theory.

With a power to select what it wished to be -
A fungus or flower, a bush or a tree,
A fowl of the air, or a fish of the sea,
A cow or a sheep, a bug or a flea,

Or, if tired of these, it may change its plan:
Be a cat or a dog, or O-rang-oo-tan,
But culminating at last in a man
By this grand Darwinian theory.


Oh! hokey, pokey, pow'r of selection,
Choose yourself your particular section.
A peasant, or Lord with a great connection.
By the grand Darwinian theory.

Your attention, ladies - let me win it;
Just think of this theory for a minute;
Is there really not something distressing in it -
To think that you sprang from a monkey?

That delicate hand was a monkey's paw,
Those lovely lips graced a monkey's jaw,
Those handsome ankles, so trim and neat,
One time surmounted a monkey's feet;

Those sparkling eyes a monkey did lend,
That graceful form from one did descend,
From a monkey you borrowed the Grecian bend,
By this grand Darwinian theory.


Oh! hokey, pokey, protoplasm,
'Tween monkeys and man there is no chasm,
Why shouldn't you clasp them to your bosom?
They're infant men by this theory.

Such murderers we - far worse than Cain,
For darker deeds our characters stain;
For thousands of brothers we've eaten and slain,
By the grand Darwinian theory.

When sitting at breakfast, and picking the wing
Of a pigeon, or grouse, or of some other thing;
Or dining on mutton or lamb, if in spring;
Or on salmon, or trout, or on cod, or on ling -

Gaze into the future, and say, can't you see
What horrible cannibals we must be,
Devouring the flesh, which may yet become we,
By the grand Darwinian theory?


Oh! hokey, pokey, ringo-ging,
The cannibal islands once had a King
Who ate his own kin, but to us he's no-thing,
When compared in the light of this theory.

But why should the theory end with man?
If he has been less, surely more he can,
And should be, by the great developing plan
Of the grand Darwinian theory.

Why should he not on this earth yet be,
An angel, or god, like Mercury,
With a wing on each shoulder, each ankle and knee?
Oh! how delightful then it will be,

When sighing and wishing your sweetheart to see,
To wipe your beak, and just upwards flee,
Like birds - and meet your love on a tree,
On the top of a hill, by this theory.


Oh! hokey, pokey, ringo-ging,
The world then literally on the wing,
No street cabs needed, or any such thing,
By the grand Darwinian theory.

John Young, C.E.

First and Second Law

One of the great problems in the world today is undoubtedly this problem of not being able to talk to scientists, because we don't understand science. They can't talk to us because they don't understand anything else, poor dears. This problem, I think it was C.P. Snow first raised it - Sir Charles Snow in private life - in his books Science and Government and so on. Mind you, I haven't read it. I'm waiting for the play to come.

He says, quite rightly, he says it's no good going up to a scientist and saying to him as you would to anybody else, you know, "good morning, how are you, lend me a quid" and so on, I mean he'll just glare at you or make a rude retort or something. No, you have to speak to him in language that he'll understand. I mean you go up to him and say something like, "Ah, H2SO4 Professor! Don't synthesize anything I wouldn't synthesize. Oh, and the reciprocal of pi to your good wife." Now, this he will understand.

Snow says that nobody can consider themselves educated who doesn't know at least the basic language of science. I mean things like Sir Edward Boyle's Law, for example - the greater the external pressure, the greater the volume of hot air. The simple . . . or . . . the Second Law of Thermodynamics, this is very important. I wasn't so much shocked the other day to discover that my partner not only doesn't know the Second Law, he doesn't even know the First Law of Thermodynamics!

Going back to first principles, very briefly: thermodynamics, of course, is derived from two Greek words, thermos, meaning hot - if you don't drop it - and dynamics, meaning dynamic, work; and thermodynamics is simply the science of heat and work, and the relationships between the two as laid down in the Laws of Thermodynamics, which may be expressed in the following simple terms - after me, Donald.

The First law of Thermodynamics.
Heat is work and work is heat
Heat is work and work is heat
Very Good.
The Second law of thermodynamics.
Heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter body
Heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter body
Heat won't pass from a cooler to a hotter
Heat won't pass from a cooler to a hotter
You can try it if you like but you'd far better not-a
You can try it if you like but you'd far better not-a
'Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a rule-a
'Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a rule-a
'Cos the hotter body's heat will pass to the cooler
'Cos the hotter body's heat will pass to the cooler
Heat is work and work is heat and work is heat and heat is work
Heat will pass by conduction and
Heat will pass by conduction and
Heat will pass by convection and
Heat will pass by convection and
Heat will pass by radiation
Heat will pass by radiation
And that's a physical law

Heat is work and work's a curse
And all the heat in the universe
Is gonna cool down,
'Cos it can't increase
Then there'll be no more work
And there'll be perfect peace
Yeah, that's entropy, Man.
And all because of the second law of thermodynamics which lays down:
That you can't pass heat from a cooler to a hotter
Try it if you like but you'd far better not-a
'Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a rule-a
'Cos the hotter body's heat will pass to the cooler

Oh, you can't pass heat from a cooler to a hotter
Try it if you like but you'll only look a fool-a
'Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a rule-a
And that's a physical law
Oh, I'm hot
That's because you've been working!
Oh, Beatles, nothing!
That's the first and second laws of thermodynamics.

From: Flanders and Swann, At the Drop of Another Hat

I'm called an astronomer

(Tune: "I'm called Little Buttercup")


I'm called an astronomer, skilful astronomer,
Though I could never tell why;
But yet an astronomer, happy astronomer,
Modest astronomer, I.

I read the thermometers, break the photometers,
Mend them with paper and wax;
I often lament that so seldom is spent
A fair evening on star parallax.

I write many letters, give aid to my betters,
And often sit up late o'nights
To catch a few glimpses of the many eclipses
of Jupiter's bright satellites.

I'm called an astronomer, skilful astronomer,
Though I could never tell why;
But yet an astronomer, happy astronomer,
Modest astronomer, I.

From: The Observatory Pinafore, Harvard

The Scientific Man; or Mrs Crucible's Lamentations. By Robert More.


Ah! science is a lovely thing,
and shines serenely bright,
At least so many poets sing,
And they of course are right,
And yet I would not recommend
My cousin Jane or Fan
To wed that very pleasant friend
A Scientific Man.

When Crucible my heart and hand
First sought with pensive looks
I fondly strove to understand
His philosophic books;
All frivolous pursuits above,
My studies I began,
And thought it very grand to love
A Scientific Man.

3 Ah! woe is me! In luckless hour
Our cards were tied together
And Mr. Crucible and I
Were bound by Hymen’s tether;
How could that philosophic lore
My foolish heart trepan
To marry that domestic bore
A Scientific Man!

4 The honeymoon was scarcely past
When all my fairy dreams
Fled like dissolving views at last,
And stopt my learned themes;
Too late I found that sciences
We must not closely scan,
And that a bad alliance is
A Scientific Man!

5 From morn ‘till night my husband sits
As post or statue mute,
Quite lost in dull abstracted fits
About some wild pursuit;
With every new invention caught,
Or wonder working plan
That’s never perfect – yet he’s thought
A Scientific Man!

6 His nights on chemistry are spent,
Or mathematic lore,
And sometimes on the stars intent
He walks the attic floor;
I know he’ll blow us up some night,
So sleep I rarely can,
But wait, half dead with cold and fright,
A Scientific Man!

7 The house which I should like to keep
Extremely neat and clean,
In vain the servants scour and sweep –
It’s such an awful scene;
Each room is like a chemist’s shop,
Or jugglers caravan;
No argument will ever stop
A Scientific Man!

8 The electrotype with jars and bowls
Makes such a dreadful mess:
That nasty blue stuff made such holes
In my new satin dress.
The tables, chairs, and carpets too
Were burnt where e’er it ran
Ah me! I’m sure Job never knew
A Scientific Man!


1. A thousand foolish whirligigs
About the house are whizzing,
And little figures dancing jigs,
Keep up an endless phizzing,
Moved by Magnetic batteries –
Would they were in Chusan!
My husband’s crack’s no matter he’s
A Scientific Man!

2. I really thought the other day
He’d killed poor Grand-Mama,
Her dear old hands she chanced to lay
Upon a Leyden jar
Left charged with Electricity
By that wild Caliban
And pink of eccentricity
A Scientific Man!

3. The children too, poor little dears,
Do get such thumps and shocks!
And that steam engine I’ve my fears
Some day will catch their frocks:
Each hour they taste some pois’nous Vase,
Or tumble in some pan
Of Aquafortis – their Papa’s
A Scientific Man!

4. But hark! Oh, what a dreadful crash!
I’m sure there’s some disaster –
Here Kitty! – Jane! – another smash!
Pray run and help your Master; -
Some boiler or retort has burst,
And Crucy’s earthly span
Cut short – I dreaded from the first
A Scientific Man!


The Anglo-Saxon Twins. Connected by the Atlantic Telegraph.

SUCCESS at last sits, like a crown,
Upon our work gigantic;
Behold the Telegraph laid down
Beneath the broad Atlantic.

Yankee doodle, &c.

Accomplished is the mighty job,
In spite of wind and weather;
So JONATHAN, we now shall throb
With sympathy together.

Yankee doodle, &c.

The two great nations not in chains
Are now as one connected,
Whereby the cause of Freedom gains,
For ‘twill be more respected.

Yankee doodle, &c.

United, brother JONATHAN,
In firm amalgamation,
I guess we Anglo-Saxons can
If need be, whip creation.

Yankee doodle, &c.

The odds are very much increased,
By our more close communion,
Against the Soldier and the Priest,
With despots linked in union.

Yankee doodle, &c.

Let but our forces be combined,
And we’ll preserve from fetters,
A no small some of human mind,
In science and in letters.

Yankee doodle, &c.

Free Press, which every bigot hates,
Free utterance of opinions,
Shall live in the United States,
And British Queen’s dominions.

Yankee doodle, &c.

May talk of lightning slick as grease
Discussions shortly finish,
And every chance of broken peace
To less than nought diminish

Yankee doodle, &c.

Now every squabble we have had
Is pretty nigh forgotten,
So let us set to work like mad,
And deal in corn and cotton.

Yankee doodle, &c.

Two thousand miles beneath the sea,
If you’re inclined as I am,
That wire will draw close you and me
As those famed twins of Siam.

Yankee doodle, &c.

So let United freemen’s cheers
Drive all the tyrants frantic,
The Telegraph as each one hears
Has spanned the great Atlantic.

Yankee doodle, &c.

From: Punch 35, August 14, 1858, p. 72.

A thousand ages underground

Tune: O God Our Help in Ages Past

A thousand ages underground,
His skeleton had lain,
But now his body’s big and round
And there’s life in him again!

His bones like Adam’s wrapped in clay
His ribs of iron stout,
Where is the brute alive today
That dares to turn him out.

Beneath his hide he’s got inside
The souls of living men,
Who dare our Saurian now deride
With life in him again?

The jolly old beast
Is not deceased
There’s life in him again! (roar)

From: W. J. T. Mitchell, The last dinosaur book: the life and times of a cultural icon (University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 97.

Sung at the dinner held at the Crystal Palace's monstrous display, New Year's Eve, 1853

"Ions Mine"

Air: “Clementine.”

I. In the dusty lab’ratory,
‘Mid the coils and wax and twine,
There the atoms in their glory
Ionise and recombine.

Oh my darlings! Oh my darlings!
Oh my darling ions mine!
You are lost and gone for ever
When just once you recombine!

2. In a tube quite electrodeless,
They discharge around a line,
And the glow they leave behind them
Is quite corking for a time.

3. And with quite a small expansion,
1.8 or 1.9,
You can get a cloud delightful,
Which explains both snow and rain.

4. In the weird magnetic circuit
See how lovingly they twine,
As each ion describes a spiral
Round its own magnetic line.

5. Ultra-violet radiation
From the arc or glowing lime,
Soon discharges a conductor
If it’s charged with minus sign.

6. α rays from radium bromide
Cause a zinc-blende screen to shine,
Set it glowing, clearly showing
Scintillations all the time.

7. Radium bromide emanation,
Rutherford did first divine,
Turns to helium, then Sir William
Got the spectrum – every line.

From The Post Prandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Physical Society (1911 fourth edition)

How do I enter?

• The competition opens on 17th February 2009.

Pick one of the five traditional tunes detailed below, several of which have actually been used for scientific songs, and set your own words that introduce a particular theme in the history of science. Think creatively!
  • ‘Clementine’
  • ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’
  • ‘What Shall we Do with the Drunken Sailor?’
  • ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’
  • ‘English Country Garden’

• If you’re having trouble getting started, then have a look at the inspirational historical examples that will be posted online on this blog. Please provide a minimum of two verses, and a maximum of eight. Don’t forget the chorus!

• It’s fine to enter with the lyrics alone but if you would like to then please do include performance directions, suggestions for instrumentation and voices, tempi and dynamics, musical genre, etc. However, please format your entry as a text file or pdf file, not one that uses specialist music-making software.

• Also, why not record a version of yourself or your friends, your band, or your choir singing the song and submit it to our supplementary competition as an audio or video file, preferably as an mp3 or mp4 file?

• Send your song lyrics and performances to historyofsciencesongs@googlemail.com by Friday 17th April. You should receive a message in reply confirming your entry.

• Prize-winners will be announced at our Annual Conference in Leicester on Saturday 4th July 2009, and immediately thereafter on the BSHS website.

Enquiries about this competition should be sent to melanie.keene@gmail.com with the subject header OEC Song Competition

Please note that by entering this competition you guarantee that your lyrics are your own original work. The BSHS will use the winning entries in our activities to bring topics in the history of science, technology and medicine to new audiences.

Friday, 16 January 2009

OEC Competition 2009 – History of Science Songs

This year the Outreach and Education Committee of the British Society for the History of Science invites you to rewrite your favourite tunes with lyrics about a theme, episode, or character in the history of science, technology or medicine, and have a chance of winning a £100 cash prize!

Ever wondered whether ‘Cholera!’ would have been a more entertaining Andrew Lloyd Webber musical than ‘Oliver!’? Always wanted precise zoological information from Flanders and Swann’s ‘Hippopotamus’, or felt that ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ should really have provided more details about the Apollo landings? Now’s your chance to put those thoughts into practice.

By entering our competition you’ll be following in a fine tradition of scientific music-making to well-known melodies, from the Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory’s ‘Ions Mine’ to the tune of ‘Clementine’, to a satirical celebration of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable that rewrote ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’, and Tom Lehrer’s tongue-twisting version of Gilbert and Sullivan in ‘The Elements’.

Entries will be judged on their historical content and choice of topic, on their wit and imaginative use of language and rhyme schemes, and on their fit to the original tune.

One £100 first prize will be won, alongside two £50 runners-up prizes. We’ll also be awarding two £50 prizes for the best amateur performance of a song – so why not send in an audio or video recording of you singing your entry? You can submit more than one entry, but a maximum of one prize per person in each category can be won.