Science involved in hearing gets a good rap

01:34, Jun 26 2012
Justin Tripp
LISTEN UP: Teacher Justin Tripp has won the adult category of a science rap competition for his piece about auditory systems.

When science teacher Justin Tripp walks down the corridors at Motueka High School, he's greeted with a knowing nod and a "now listen up".

That's the catchphrase from his unlikely hip-hop hit Auditory System, which has just won him the adult section of Science Idol.

Run as part of the NZ International Science Festival in Dunedin, Science Idol is a music video competition where participants record an original song with a science theme.

Mr Tripp's entry focused on the auditory system because when he learned about it at university, "it was one of those moments where it clicked, about how amazing and complicated it is".

In just two minutes, his quirky video manages to explain how hearing uses all three states of matter – gas, liquid, and solid – to transform pressurised sound waves into stimuli on the auditory nerve.

He also thought it was cool to write a song about the process of listening to the song.


Mr Tripp, 33, has mixed science education and the arts since his double major in art and science at university in California.

He first rapped when, as a class requirement, he could write a 10-page research paper or compose and perform a rap song.

He learned that it was "far harder to compose a song that tells a story than to do the research paper".

At Motueka High School, he ran a project for his year 10 students to write a song or design a board game about the digestive system and when he heard about Science Idol, urged students to take part.

He recorded Auditory System to encourage them to enter but, in a twist, "what was a motivational technique ended up being the winner".

As year 11 students entered his class yesterday afternoon, they congratulated him on his win and asked if he had his prize – a new iPad – yet.

Louis Attenborough, 15, said the song was "cool – it flowed together with the topic" and said that on students' birthdays, Mr Tripp would sometimes sing a spontaneous song for them.

"It'll be death metal yodelling or something".

Along with two student age-group winners, Mr Tripp is in contention for a trip to Dunedin to record his song professionally and perform at the International Science Festival during the July school holidays along with American science rapper Tom McFadden, who has just toured NZ schools as The Rhymebosome.

The Nelson Mail