Last month I wrote about my friend Tom McFadden … Stanford University brainiac, Fulbright Fellow, biology teacher, and itinerant rapper.  AKA The Rhymebosome, Tom has been touring New Zealand, spreading his infectious enthusiasm for science to intermediate and secondary students through raps and rhymes. You may have seen him in the media recently as he hip-hopped from Auckland to Dunedin where he is completing the Masters degree he started as a Fulbrighter.

Tom getting the kids involved.

Tom and a posse hip-hopping toward, rather than fleeing from, science.

His recent tour was intended in part to promote a competition that he inspired to get students interested and involved in science by making it more fun and interactive. The contest, titled New Zealand‘s Science Idol, encouraged students to write and perform rap or hip hop songs about a science topic that interests them.

Twenty-seven contestants submitted video clips. Judges (including Tom) narrowed the field to eleven finalists based on scientific content, lyrical ingenuity, and performance quality. After intense scrutiny and vigorous debate, the judges selected winners in three age-group categories:  8 -14 years, 15-21 years, and 22-101 years. Each winner received a shiny new iPad to facilitate his or her ongoing scientific explorations.

I thoroughly enjoyed the winning videos, so I thought I’d share them with you here. The winner in the 8-14 category was Ella Cameron, a student at Tahuna Normal Intermediate School in Dunedin. She dominated the field with her fun-filled and factual rhyming video clip, The Heart Goes Boom:

James Mustapic, a student at John McGlashan College in Dunedin, took the 15-21 year-old category with Covalent Love, a daring nuclear parody of one of Justin Bieber’s most recent releases:

Topping the older-folks category with the visually and lyrically cool Auditory System was American expat Lee Tripp, who teaches science in Nelson:

The Science Idol competition culminates late next week at the grandly titled New Zealand International Science Festival in Dunedin, this year themed ”What Makes Us Tick.” On Friday, July 6th, one of the three age-category winners highlighted above will be named the grand prize winner.

In addition to being showered with acclaim, the newly crowned Sci-Rap Grand Master π will perform live with The Rhymebosome on stage at the Festival. He or she will also be invited to use the University of Otago’s studio facilities to make a music video.

I’m running my own populist poll, so please watch the three videos above and drop me a note before next Friday (July 6th) with your choice for the grand prize winner — The Heart Goes Boom, Covalent Love, or Auditory System. I’ll let you know the week after the Festival whether we the people agreed with the judges.

The Rhymebosome in action at Cardinal McKeefry School in Wellington.

The Rhymebosome in action at Cardinal McKeefry School in Wellington.

Although, disappointingly, he doesn’t communicate with me in rhyme, Tom can’t stop gushing about how proud he is of the ”creativity and scientific swagger” demonstrated by everyone who entered the contest or engaged with him during his tour. Having viewed many of the videos myself, I can see why he is so impressed.

I have to say, though, that I turn the proud-and-impressed thing right back on Tom. He has used his Fulbright time in New Zealand exceptionally well. Yes, there’s the creativity and scientific swagger, but there’s also infectious passion and extraordinary generosity of spirit and time. Big thanks to Tom for being such a great ambassador and catalyst, cerebral and otherwise.

Big thanks as well to the folks at Fulbright for having the wisdom to recognize and select such an impactful free spirit for such a prestigious exchange program. And, of course, big thanks to the budget-challenged governments that continue to invest in the future in a pound-wise manner by funding academic exchanges such as the Fulbright.