Theatrical Columbia Physics Prof Puts on Real Show for Class

Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013 04:00 PM

By Dale Eisinger

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If you're taking "Frontiers of Science," a required physics core course at Columbia University, you're due for a bizarre combination of performance art, news reels, and ninjas smashing puppets with samurai swords.

The class about quantum physics is getting mixed reviews.

Columbia gossip blog Bwog reported some students sat in Professor Emlyn Hughes' first day of class with bewildered looks on their faces.

"The first class of the physics unit was running a bit late when the lights went out," according to Bwog. "When they came back on, Professor Emlyn Hughes was in the spotlight."

Hughes, the deputy chair of Columbia's physics department, took off his clothes, put them back on, projected footage of 9/11, Hitler, North Korea, and Nazi Germany, while the Snoop Dogg song "Drop It Like It's Hot" played throughout the classroom.

"In order to learn quantum mechanics, you have to strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain, and start over again," Hughes told the sizeable class.

According to Columbia's course catalog, Frontiers of Science intends to introduce "students to exciting ideas at the forefront of scientific research and develops the habits of mind characteristic of a scientific approach to the world. Our goal is to foster a common intellectual experience, helping to close the divide between science and humanities in the minds of our students, as well as to enhance the experience of teaching for the faculty."

On Bwog, one Columbia student called the class "a desperate attempt to dress up a disastrous course in cool."

"I would be legit scared for my life if I was there," another commenter wrote.

Several commenters drew connections between Hughes' bizarre behavior and recent mass shootings, saying they were afraid for their lives.

When Hughes was interviewed in a 2010 issue of "Columbia College Today," he said the "biggest challenge in teaching a large introductory physics course at Columbia is reaching students with enormously varied backgrounds."

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