21,000 YouTube views later, UCLA students make encore science rap video
If Kim, Justin and Yannick aren't really rap stars, don't tell the high school students they inspire.
UCLA professor Neil Garg had 250 students in his organic chemistry course this spring, but he knew Justin Banaga, Kimberly Bui and Yannick Goeb stood out as exceptional, even before they made their "Chemistry Jock" music video as an extra credit assignment. The video now has more than 21,000 views on YouTube.
The evidence of their excellence included their extremely high scores on exams and the fact that they learned the structure of a particularly complex molecule, well beyond the scope of the course, and each correctly drew the structure on the board in front of the class.
"When students score 30 to 50 points above the class average, they really stand out. Yannick, Justin and Kim were able to this, so I knew who they were before they even made 'Chemistry Jock,'" Garg said. "They are exceptional students who, in my opinion, represent the best undergraduates at UCLA, and perhaps anywhere. They enjoy learning and teaching and inspiring others to embrace their own education. They are 'A' students but want to do much more. I think that is a rare quality. They love science and want other people to share their enthusiasm."
The three also volunteer on Saturdays to work with students from inner-city Los Angeles high schools on science experiments through a UCLA program called CityLab.
With their first music video having been so well-received, they have now made another, "Doing ELISA," which they premiered for the CityLab students.
Afterward, the high school students approached them for autographs and photographs. While Justin, Kim and Yannick say they're UCLA students, not music stars, the distinction was lost on some of the awed high schoolers who compared Kim with their favorite rappers.
"This is a crucial time in their lives, and we wanted to show these students that learning science does not have to be one-dimensional and does not have to be limited to a textbook," Justin said. "We received a lot of positive feedback from our 'Chemistry Jock' video, so we thought we could inspire these students and make learning science more enjoyable for them by making a second music video. We thought if we could do that for them, then all the effort we were putting in and all the lack of sleep would be completely worth it."
"ELISA stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and is a diagnostic test to detect antibodies in someone's blood serum or the presence of disease-causing antigens to predict whether someone has a disease," Yannick explained.
His "ELISA" rap includes the lines: E-L-I-S-A / The science skills we're building / Prepare to be amazed / 'Cause CityLab is in the building.
"They may forget the scientific details, but if we can help them see that science can be fun, that may motivate them to go to college and pursue science," Justin said. "A lot of kids I talk to dream of going to UCLA. To help out these kids at a crucial time in their lives means a lot to us."
"I like teaching in a creative way that kids will remember," Kim said. "CityLab provides the opportunity not only to teach but to be creative in presenting topics."
Justin, Kim and Yannick are all third-year life sciences majors, not chemistry majors, and none of them had any background in video editing or music editing. But that did not deter them.
"Figuring everything out was part of the reason it was fun," Yannick said. "'Chemistry Jock' was the first time we ever did something like this."
"During midterms, whenever I wanted to take a break from studying, I worked on the video," Justin said.
How accurate is the science in the videos?
"It's terrific," Garg said. "Everything's correct and very consistent with what they learned in class."
What have Justin, Kim and Yannick learned making these videos?
"I learned to really rely on Yannick and Kim," Justin said. "When we made 'Doing ELISA,' I had three hours of sleep for five days in a row during midterms. Being able to rely on them when I was too tired to do something was so reassuring. The biggest compliment is when someone who doesn't understand any of the science still likes the videos."
"We bounced ideas off each other, which made it easy," Kim said. "We had joked about making an educational music video and got really excited when Professor Garg gave us the opportunity to make an organic chemistry video."
What does Garg think of their science music videos?
"I was blown away," he said. "'Chemistry Jock' got better and better every time I watched it. My wife, who works in the film industry, in post-production, loves 'Chemistry Jock,' and our 3-year-old daughter loves it too. It's an incredible video. 'Doing ELISA' is the same; it makes you want to learn more."
Friends Kim knows at the University of Southern California did not understand organic chemistry well until they watched the music videos from Garg's class. His undergraduates produced 61 videos.
Justin and Yannick have been friends since middle school in Northern California, and they met Kim their first year at UCLA.
"Being able to inspire the kids in CityLab to learn more about science is a great opportunity, and we're grateful CityLab allowed us to do this," Yannick said.
"And we thank Professor Garg for inspiring us," Justin added.
Garg, whose UCLA research group focuses on synthetic organic chemistry, strongly advocates the innovative use of technology to enhance student learning. His students use anonymous hand-held 'classroom clickers' that enable them to answer questions he poses in real time, providing valuable information to him and the class.
He teaches undergraduate organic chemistry (Chemistry 14D) each spring quarter and has asked Justin, Kim and Yannick to serve on a "celebrity panel of judges" to evaluate the 2011 student music videos.
"I half-want some students to make a better video than 'Chemistry Jock,' but I'm not sure that anyone can," Garg said.
"I want that too; I would love that," Justin said.
"I hope it happens," Yannick said. Kim quickly agreed.
The prediction here is that doesn't seem likely, but check back on the UCLA Newsroom in June and judge for yourself.