Songs From the Science Frontier

by Monty Harper

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about

“Do you look upon the universe with wonder in your eyes?” asks the opening lyric of Oklahoma songwriter Monty Harper’s new CD of songs about science for learners age eight and up. If so, sings Harper, “then you’re ready for adventure on the science frontier!”

The CD is adventurous indeed, taking listeners to the cutting edge of scientific exploration with subjects like phototaxic bacteria, acrocanthosaurus, stress hormones, wheat genomics, bacterial biofilms, bat taxonomy, x-ray crystallography, wind energy and luminescence dating. “These aren’t typical topics for kids’ science songs,” Harper admits. “But I’m not trying to teach textbook content here. I really want to celebrate the purpose and process of science.”

Harper’s unique approach grew out of the “Born to Do Science” program he hosts at his local library, in which scientists speak with children about their current research. In-depth interviews with his guest speakers formed the basis for most of the songs on the CD. “Scientists are heroes to me,” says Harper. “They have the patience, curiosity, and courage to explore nature and generate new knowledge, all with an eye toward improving the human condition. It’s such fascinating and important work. Everybody should know something about it!”

With this mission in mind Harper set out to make a recording that families would want to hear over and over again. He raised the necessary cash with a “crowd-funding” campaign on Kickstarter.com that brought in over $9,000. More than 140 backers contributed to the campaign. “I was blown away,” says Harper. “Not only friends, family and fans, but total strangers gave generously because they believe in the need for fun, engaging, informal science education.”

Harper put the money he raised to good use, hiring Chris Wiser of the Oklahoma City band, the Sugar Free Allstars, as his producer. The SFA are widely known for their fun and funky organ and drum kids’ rock, which supports Harper’s own Beatle-influenced acoustic sensibilities throughout the CD. Says Colin Thornton, of Cincinnati, OH, one of the CD’s backers and father of two girls, “The album is so good that you forget you're learning about science. The songs are as catchy as They Might Be Giants, as smart as the Decemberists, and as creative as Bright Eyes.”

credits

released November 11, 2010

@ 2010 by Monty Harper
Monty Harper: vocals, acoustic guitar, concertina, melodica
Rob "Dr. Rock" Martin: drums, percussion
Chris "Boom" Wiser: keyboards
Dave Spindle: bass, electric guitar
Produced by Chris Wiser
Recorded at Bell Labs Recording Studio, Norman, OK
Additional recording at 20 Sparrows Recording Service, OKC, OK
Engineered by Trent Bell
Mastered by Garrett Haines at Treelady Studios
Cover design by Monty Harper and Paul Fleming
Funded through Kickstarter.com
Boom and Dr. Rock appear courtesy of the Sugar Free Allstars

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about

Monty Harper Stillwater, Oklahoma

Monty Harper is a children's musician in Stillwater, OK. He performs for elementary schools and libraries, helps kids write their own songs in workshops and residencies, does informal science education, and writes songs for clients.

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Track Name: Science Frontier
Do you look upon the universe with wonder in your eyes?
Do you tingle with attention when you’re taken by surprise?
If a problem should perplex you, does it put your brain in gear?
Then you’re ready for adventure on the science frontier!

The science frontier
The science frontier
You can always be a pioneer
On the science frontier

All our continents are mapped, and all our shipping lanes are known
So our planet doesn’t want another Ponce de Leon
But we do need great explorers with the strength to persevere
Blazing off in new directions through the science frontier

The science frontier
The science frontier
You can always be a pioneer
On the science frontier

Beyond the reach of scientific law
You’ll find a land of untamed facts and rogue phenomena
Dark matter and dark energy, entanglement of light
Pluripotent stem cells, the origins of life
Cancer-fighting nanobots, magnetic monopoles
Extremophile biology, the centers of black holes
Genomics, climatology, the rise of human kind
Informatics, wind energy, the nature of the mind
And for every mountain conquered brand new vistas will appear
May we never see the boundary of the science frontier

The science frontier
The science frontier
You can always be a pioneer
On the science frontier
The Science Frontier
Track Name: What Is the Shape of the Molecule?
Molecular biologists who study the cell
Tease apart the functioning of each organelle
Their minds are down exploring all that microscopic scenery
Puzzling out the pieces of the cellular machinery
To get at how a nano-worker tackles its task
There's one million dollar poser they inexorably ask:

What is the shape of the molecule?
The protein molecule in question
We need the shape of the molecule
To understand how it works!

Quite often biochemists like to lend expertise
To finding brand new substances that hinder disease
See that pathogenic enzyme? To the virus, it’s vital
So they’re seeking an inhibitor to keep that thing idle
And trial after trial makes their brains a little weary
Just looking for the chance to raise that million dollar query

Repeat Chorus

From the DNA to the RNA
to the ribosome to the amino acid chain
Every biologist knows that's how the process goes
And when a protein is assembled, it’s contents are plain
But Nature plays her trick, and she is oh so quick
It is impossible to follow her with any success
Each protien twists and folds until the form it holds
Becomes a complicated structure that we cannot guess
That's why we need to use clever tools
To figure out the shapes of these molecules!

An x-ray crystallographer has tricks she applies
To isolate a protein and make it crystalize
Then she puts the protein crystal in an x-ray apparatus
A pattern of reflections forms beyond the crystal lattice
Computers do the math based on the way the x-rays scatter
That's one technique for getting at this million dollar matter

Repeat Chorus
Track Name: Acrocanthosaurus
Acrocanthosaurus

Acrocanthosaurus buried underneath the ground
One hundred twenty million years you waited to be found
Your bones reveal the tale
Of claws that would impale
And jaws that would avail a preditory carnivore
Still you keep your secrets
My Oklahoma dinosaur

Acrocanthosaurus with your vertebrae so unique
A scientific mystery, they give you your mystique
Like dominoes in a row
Were they more than just for show?
We’d very much like to know what you evolved to grow them for
Still you keep your secrets
My Oklahoma dinosaur

Swing your mighty tail bone; Snap your toothy jaws
Stomp your plodding foot bone; Spring your sharpened claws
Shake your spiny back bone; Sing your lonesome roar
Acrocanthosaurus
My Oklahoma dinosaur

Acrocanthosaurus with your headdress down your spine
We formed a few hypotheses about your cool design
Maybe it kept you warm?
Maybe it made you strong?
Maybe we’re right or wrong but we'll continue to explore
As long as you keep your secrets
My Oklahoma dinosaur

Swing your mighty tail bone; Snap your toothy jaws
Stomp your plodding foot bone; Spring your sharpened claws
Shake your spiny back bone; Sing your lonesome roar
Acrocanthosaurus
My Oklahoma dinosaur
Track Name: Super Scientist
Super Scientist

Pseudomonas Aeruginosa
Bacteria that seem to do no harm
But then a secret message signals them to form a biofilm
And they organize a syndicate
Invincible and poisonous
And none can stop their deadly tricks
None but the super scientist

Go, Super Scientist, go! Break that code
Go, Super Scientist, go! Find your answers
Do the things you need to do to make the data speak to you
Go, Super Scientist, go! Change the world

She's not your average super hero
She cannot fly; she cannot see through walls
Dedication, Perseverance and Patience are her powers
She never needs to use a fist
When facing down her nemesis
She punches by hypothesis
She is a super scientist

Go, Super Scientist, go! Break that code
Go, Super Scientist, go! Find your answers
Do the things you need to do to make the data speak to you
Go, Super Scientist, go! Change the world

She wants to stop them forming biofilms
To stop the biofilms she’ll block their secret signal
To block the signal she needs to know the pathway
To know the pathway she needs to find the proteins
To find the proteins she must test a list of suspects
Knocking out one gene each time to form a mutant PA spy

While each test takes six months to do
Dedication, Perseverance and Patience see her through

Go, Super Scientist, go! Break that code
Go, Super Scientist, go! Find your answers
Do the things you need to do to make the data speak to you
Go, Super Scientist, go! Change the world
Go, Super Scientist, go!
Change the world!
Track Name: Microbe Hunter
Once he took a submarine to an undersea ravine to explore a hydrothermal vent
Life had never yet been found in the place he poked around near the superheated effluent
Yet there were some critters there gladly munching on the fare in their sulphurous cafeteria
He took em home to his retreat, but they died without their heat; they were thermophilic bacteria

He's a mi - crobe hunter
Exploring the great unknown
He's a mi - crobe hunter
Adding brand new branches to the tree of life mighty different from our own

He was good and lost on the Russian permafrost where there ain't no trees nor herbivores
With a tubular device he dug down into the ice and he pulled up ancient sample cores
In the unforgiving cold frozen life had taken hold; the oldest bugs in Siberia
He tried to take em back, but they melted in his pack; they were cryophilic bacteria

He's a mi - crobe hunter
Exploring the great unknown
He's a mi - crobe hunter
Adding brand new branches to the tree of life mighty different from our own

Well he went for a fling to the Zodeltone Spring on an Oklahoma mountainside
It was such a crazy brew that the critters that it grew were incredibly distinct and rarefied
We can be assured the excitement they stirred was more than mere hysteeria
For the NSF sent him one enormous check to isolate the new bacteria

He's a mi - crobe hunter
Exploring the great unknown
He's a mi - crobe hunter
Adding brand new branches to the tree of life mighty different from our own

From their RNA he can tell you right away if the critters he's caught are novelties
If they've never been seen he will sequence every gene, finding clues to what puts them at their ease
In a culture dish he’ll try and grant their every wish, meeting metabolic criteria
And if the buggers up and die, he'll take another try until he grows the new bacteria

Cause he's a mi - crobe hunter
Exploring the great unknown
He's a mi - crobe hunter
Adding brand new branches to the tree of life mighty different from our own
Adding brand new branches to the tree of life mighty different from our own
Track Name: Bat Man
Bat Man

There are books full of bats from all over this world
Eleven hundred species or so
They've been identified, named, described and preserved
But it's their history that we still don’t know
And though he'd love to go trapping in Mozambique
It really wouldn't bring back the knowledge we seek
So the bat man labors in his lab all day
Analyzing DNA

Cause he's a bat man
Yeah he's a bat man
Working on the mystery of life's history
He's a bat man

Bat bodies built with itty bitty brittle bones
Don't fossilize very well
And many kinds of bats look exactly alike
So just by peeping at em we can't tell
But deep in every cell there are molecular clues
A record of change that the bat man can use
When the bat man sees a difference in a couple of genes
He knows just what that means

Repeat Chorus

Some genes change every generation
Older genes show vary little variation
Genomes are like a kind of history book
The trick is learning where to look

Around the world thousands of biologists
Are working in a similar vane
Each one checking out a different niche
Every species under every domain
And with molecular clues new contributions are rife
To this planet sized puzzle we call the tree of life
And when we put it all together think of what that's worth
We'll know the history of life on Earth
Yeah we will, we'll know the history of life on Earth

Repeat Chorus
Track Name: Born to Do Science
Baby’s in the high chair
Her food is on the floor
She's testing a hypothesis
And she needs to know more
Square and orange will stick she predicts
Round and green will bounce like a ball
Her carrots and peas fly one by one
Until the outcome becomes predictable

We are born to do science
A baby can do it and so can you
We are born to do science
Just figuring out what's true

Baby’s out of juice now.
And so she throws her cup.
It makes a happy clatter!
And her Daddy picks it up!
How can she make him do that again?
The need for data is evident
She giggles with anticipation
As she launches her new experiment...

Come on, Daddy... Pick up the cup... Hmmm…
Maybe if I cry-yi-yi

We are born to do science
A baby can do it and so can you
We are born to do science
Just figuring out what's true

Human Beings are wired to investigate
Baby’s brain will calculate, analyze and formulate
That’s why she tries to crawl into her Momma’s tote
Play with the TV remote, Find out if car keys float
It's what we're all about; we love to figure it out!

We are born to do science
A baby can do it and so can you
We are born to do science
Just figuring out what's true
Track Name: My Molecular Eye
Like a moth I am drawn when the light falls upon me
I am a phototaxic bacterium
Where there’s light I can tell and I spin my flagella
To propel me toward those rays of sun

I’ll bet you thought something tiny as me
could never see. How can this be?

My molecular eye
Flips for a photon, Kicks out a proton and registers light
My molecular eye
Shows me the whole scene, One mighty protein gives me the sight
My molecular eye

I admit I am proud when I sense that it’s cloudy
Using photocyclic chromophores
With my fine protein eyes it is hardly surprising
I’ve survived where others died before

I’ll bet you’d love just to bask in its glow,
and you’re dying to know what makes it go.

My molecular eye
Flips for a photon, Kicks out a proton and registers light
My molecular eye
Shows me the whole scene, One mighty protein gives me the sight
My molecular eye

I spy with my tiny eye
My molecular eye
My molecular eye
My molecular eye
Track Name: It's Not Fair
My mother says she thinks I probably ought to stop talking to my very best friend
She says it stresses me out
She calls it - co-rumination
I told her that I really couldn't see how it could hurt me to be talking to a friend
In fact it makes me feel good
I call it - someone to listen
Then Mama said, "One of us may be right. Good old science will shed some light."

Chorus:
It's not fair when your mother is a scientist
It's even worse when your mother is a developmental psychologist
We never have a normal argument
Cause she'll just run an experiment
She gathers up data and evidence
And who ever comes to my defense?
It's not fair when your mother is a scientist

My mother ran a study using pairs of volunteers she put in two different groups
The controls did a task
The others did co-rumination
She took before and after sample spit from each participant in each of the groups
To measure cortisol scores
Cause that's a - stress indication
When the cortisol charts came back from the lab, all I could say was, "Dag-nab!"

Repeat Chorus

But Mom, I told her, you know you haven't proven a thing (haven’t proven, really haven’t proven)
Your study isn't published. It hasn't been reviewed by your peers (it hasn’t been peer reviewed)
You can't say for certain if co-rumination is a cause of stress
Your results have not been duplicated, and that could take many years

Mom said, “It’s not fair when your kiddo knows about scientists
It's even worse when your kiddo is a teenage know-it-all smarty pants
I never win a single argument
Cause even when I run an experiment
And gather up data and evidence
My kid still invents some brilliant defense
It's not fair when your kiddo knows about scientists”
Well, it's not fair when your mother is a scientist
No Fair!
No Fair!
No Fair!
Track Name: Wind Energy
This is the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the wind
blowing in beneath the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the rotor spinning in the wind
blowing in beneath the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the generator running on the rotor spinning in the wind
blowing in beneath the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

This is electricity flowing from the generator running on the rotor spinning in the wind
blowing in beneath the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the light from the lamp I lit
with electricity flowing from the generator running on the rotor spinning in the wind
blowing in beneath the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the book I'm reading in the light from the lamp I lit
with electricity flowing from the generator running on the rotor spinning in the wind
blowing in beneath the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

What is the title of the book I'm reading in the light from the lamp I lit
with electricity flowing from the generator running on the rotor spinning in the wind
blowing in beneath the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth?

This is the Sun Shining Down on Earth
is the title of the book I'm reading in the light from the lamp I lit
with electricity flowing from the generator running on the rotor spinning in the wind
blowing in beneath the air rising up through the warmth of the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the sun shining down, shining down on Earth.
This is the sun shining down on Earth.
Wind energy, wind energy!
Capture the wind! Wind energy!
Track Name: Grain of Sand
I am a small grain of sand
I am a piece of the land
A crystal of quartz; A time-piece of sorts
Absorbing the energy at hand
A patient and ancient grain
of sand

Once I was blocked from the sun
My time as a clock had begun
Each radiant spark that strikes in the dark
Knocks one more electron undone
I trap them. I store them one
by one

Now I am lifted away from my site
Suddenly dazzled with blinding blue light
My trapped electrons all flow back where they belong
They glow as they go
You count the photons; You calculate my dose
Your machine lets you know
How many millennia I spent collecting
Electrons for you
Now I am reset and waiting for darkness
To start me anew

I am a small grain of sand
I am a piece of the land
A crystal of quartz; A time-piece of sorts
Absorbing the energy at hand
A patient and ancient grain
of sand
Track Name: Ain't It Beautiful
Behold the Oklahoma plain
Planted with a single strain
A blanket spun from golden grain
A trillion stalks of wheat

On every stalk a perfect head
The kernels keep the combines fed
Then off to manufacture bread
So everyone can eat

Ain't it beautiful; Ain't it clever
Ain't it just about the best news ever
A farmer feeds a nation's needs
When man and nature work together

About a half a world away
An Afghan farmer starts his day
He swings a scythe to cut his hay
He threshes it by hand

He grows a mix of wheat out here
And when the weather turns austere
A strain or two may persevere
Enough to meet demand

Ain't it beautiful; Ain't it clever
Ain't it just about the best news ever
A farmer feeds a family's needs
When man and nature work together

Back in Oklahoma, disaster in the fields
Farmers ponder pesticides while Russian aphids cut their yeilds
But scientists have a weapon to help us fight this pest
The USDA wheat gene bank has more than fifty thousand types to test

And they find resistance built right in
To a plant from our Afghan farmer friend
They cross it with our own and spin
A strain that can't be beat

And so the Oklahoma plain
Ripples proudly once again
A blanket spun from golden grain
A trillion stalks of wheat

Ain't it beautiful; Ain't it clever
Ain't it just about the best news ever
How science feeds our global needs
When man and nature work together