'The Simpsons' Can be Used to Teach Science
'The Simpsons' Can be Used to Teach Science
Good news for parents whose kids are avid followers of the long-running animated series, The Simpsons.  A teacher from the University of Sciences in Philadelphia claims that the cartoon actually helps young students learn about science, as the show's science themes covers an array of topics in biology, chemistry, astronomy and physics.

Paul Halpern, a physics and mathematics professor, recently released a book entitled, What's Science Ever Done for Us? What The Simpsons Can Teach US About Physics, Robots, Life and the Universe.  Additionally, he uses certain episodes of the cartoon in his classes, and says that although not everything in the show is scientifically sound, it has the potential to spark an interest in science.
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"The Simpsons offers a great starting point for learning about many scientific issues," he told USA Today.  "However, some of the conclusions reached by characters on the show should be taken with a grain of salt because, after all, it is a comedy series.”

Halpern's new book discusses the episodes with the science themes and points out whether the science in each case is valid.

In the 1999 Simpsons episode “E-I-E-I (Annoyed Grunt),” Homer uses plutonium in order to make a tomato-tobacco hybrid plant.  According to Halpern, though plutonium in the soil will not result in a “tomacco” plant, there have been documented cases of grafting the two plants to produce tomatoes that have traces of nicotine.

“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,” an episode from season 2, features a three-eyed fish, which Bart and Lisa find in a river near Mr. Burns' nuclear power plant.  In order to debunk the idea that his plant is responsible for the mutation, Mr. Burns launches an ad campaign saying Blinky the fish is the next step in evolution through natural selection.

Considering the fact that natural selection takes generations and that successful varieties must sustain a survival advantage over others, Halpern said the only way Mr. Burns can prove his assertion is by tracking Blinky over time to see if the third eye allows the mutant fish to find food more quickly or dodge predators.

The idea for the book came to Halpern when he saw the show featured a number of scientist as guest stars, including Stephen Hawking and Dudley Herschbach.  Moreover, some writers for The Simpsons have a science background, like head writer Al Jean, who holds a math degree from Harvard.

Halpern also said that he is not the only one who has used an unconventional medium to explore science.

"If you talk to many scientists, their first exposure to science may be watching a cartoon or seeing a far-out science-fiction movie," he told USA Today.  "I know there are many scientists who enjoy The Simpsons."


-Lisa Claustro, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

Source: USA Today
(Image Courtesy of FOX)

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