“I defy gravity/I am stronger than any force/I am Brooklyn”
This isn’t a verse from one of Jay Z’s latest records, but rather the first lines from a high school student’s entry in the Science B.A.T.T.L.E.S. competition.
Students from nine New York City schools competed in June, part of a network of student rap contests that marry verbal dexterity with concepts from plate tectonics to Pluto. These aren’t lectures but true competitions—students in Oakland, California, rapped about whether Rosalind Franklin was ripped off by James Watson and Francis Crick in their discovery of the architecture of DNA.
Stage names were welcome—one student performed as “Double R Bars.” Teachers encouraged adolescents to be energetic and creative as they rhymed lyrics on stage in front of family and peers.
Christopher Emdin, associate professor at Columbia University and author of Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, came up with the idea. His goal is simple: introduce scientific ideas in a way that’s fun and relevant.
“Not every student is going to be a straight-A student, and go on to college and declare a science major and be the next Einstein,” he says. “But through this project we definitely are going to have more scientifically literate young people.”
NPR captured behind-the-scenes footage in this seven-minute documentary of the rap battle. Watch it now: