Earworms, Beats, and Arrows: Six Totally Unexpected Applications of STEM

by Michael Braithwaite, Director of Communications
posted 5.02.2014

STEM learning has been a hot topic of conversation, research, and speculation in the last couple of years, but if you think STEM is all calculators, bunsen burners, and computers, you need a serious science upgrade. Trying to get young people interested in STEM? We’ve got you covered. And so does Pharrell, apparently.


1. Earworm: A catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing. See: Pharrell’s “Happy.”

PolicyMic recently posted an article about the science behind smash hits, but there’s a whole body of neuroscience dedicated to the science behind Lady Gaga, J. Lo, and Katy Perry.

Which is to say, there are a lot of scientists studying “Involuntary Musical Imagery” (that’s, “a song is stuck in my head!” in laymen’s terms). The skinny? “Most earworms have poppy, repetitive melodic lines that follow a standard pattern: They begin with long, sustained notes followed by fast runs of short, tight intervals. Earworms typically feature simple, memorable lyrics and quirky rhythmic elements (syncopation especially).” 


2. A-rhythm-etic: The math behind the drum beats. 


Remember rotely memorizing multiplication tables? Kind of boring, huh. Drummer Clayton Cameron figured out a way to make math dance in his TED-Ed performance by looking at mathematics concepts through drum beats from around the world. Put it all together and you get an original new beat!


3. Sport Science: A fascinating TV series that explores the science and engineering that underpins athletics. 


Everyone wants to be the next Katniss Everdeen, but do you know the physics it takes to make you an exceptional archer? Time to learn how to use your potential energy to maximize kinetic energy. May the odds be ever in your favor. 


4. Rubber Band Man: A STEM challenge that requires players to knock down 4 objects using only rubber bands from a distance of 4 feet.  


This is favorite in PASA’s STEM professional development sessions for the summer. It might seem like a regressive activity harkening back to when you’d try to drive your siblings nuts, but it actually encourages some pretty complex strategies. Players need to consider the angle at which they approach the objects, the force that must propel the rubber band to knock objects down, and the velocity at which the rubber band must travel to have an impact.

This architect swears by the activity when it comes to combining clarity of thought, communication skills, 3-dimensional visualization, and problem solving skills. 


5. 320° Licht: A repurposed 112-meter high gas tank converted into a cathedral of light.


There’s nothing like a good engineering/art hybrid to spark the imagination and demonstrate how art and science are more often than not entwined. The German creative studio Urbanscreen transformed the empty Gasometer Oberhausen in Germany and turned it into a jaw-dropping display of lights, shapes, and patterns that grow and shift on the walls of the Gasometer. 


6. Go Fly a Kite: Telling someone to get really into Newton’s Third Law of Motion. 


Ok, so “go fly a kite” doesn’t actually mean that, but given all the science involved in actually flying a kite (as opposed to watching it repeatedly sail toward the ground), maybe we should re-think the idiom.