Last semester, I entered AS1001 – Astronomy and Astrophysics. I didn’t choose to take the module because I have a passion for the humbling study of the outer reaches of the universe – I studied it to help me seduce women.
I envisioned myself lying on West Sands one starry night with a beautiful girl. I would paint her a tapestry on the sky with words – the incomprehensible distances, the unimaginable sizes, the breathtaking heats and energies. She would swoon, snuggle up to me and demand to hear more. I, the Cassegrain telescope Casanova, would oblige.
I soon realised I had been a fool. This was the science department – I wasn’t going to learn cosmic chat-up lines, I was studying space maths. There is nothing seductive about X-ray telescopes or Uranus’ atmosphere being 2.3% methane. No girl goes weak at the knees hearing how many of the stars we see from earth are actually two stars too close together to distinguish. It was hopeless. With lines like that, I never got any angular separation.
I demand a change. I propose a new module based not on understanding scientific concepts, but on saying somewhat science-y words in an alluring way. St Andrews, I give you ‘Brian Cox 1002’.
Brian Cox 1002 takes us back to the classical era of science, before it became nerdy and full of rulers, electronics and maths. A time when Galileo could drop a rock off the Leaning Tower of Pisa and call it physics, and a scientific breakthrough could be inspired by a piece of fruit falling on your head – I can’t imagine a scientist today being bludgeoned in the face by an efficient fusion reactor and living to build another. Back then, science was relatable and made sense. The 18th century had no quarks or quantum mechanics – just everyday objects, long curly hair and Isaac Newton’s raw sexual energy.
Brian Cox 1002 features a comprehensive curriculum covering all aspects of sexy science delivery. The first six weeks of the module are dedicated to the science of big numbers and wizzy names. Pupils can look forward to learning terms such as “Event Horizon” and “Helium Flash” as well as developing an appreciation for why describing Mars’ orbital radius as ‘9,800,000,000,000 inches’ is much sexier than ‘1.7 astronomical units’.
Another focus of the first half of the semester will be on training students’ quirky analogy skills, culminating in a speaking assessment during which students must describe a set of household objects using unusual analogies. Marks are awarded for lack of clarity and baffling internal logic, with bonus points flashy ‘ooh-wow’-iness. For example, when given a biro pen, a high scoring answer might say:
‘A biro pen is 14.5 centimetres long and a football pitch is around 120 metres long. A biro pen is therefore 0.12% of a football pitch length. A flea is around 2 millimetres long, which is roughly 0.12% the height of a man. Ergo, a biro pen is like a football pitch for fleas.’
Having learned the fundamentals of sexy science, students spend the second half of the module honing advanced techniques for charismatic science explanation, including standing on cliff-fronts, staring into the middle distance and pausing between – every – word – for – greater – emphasis.
I see no downsides to at least giving my module a chance. It could be organised in place of the ‘Great Ideas’ module – that pillar of academia – which could be rested for a semester to make way, ironically, for a great idea.
You see, Brian Cox 1002’s benefit goes far beyond the world of science. It teaches a vital lesson that, for all the careers development and internship schemes, is addressed nowhere else at the University of St Andrews. Brian Cox 1002, with its highfalutin’ language and lessons in charisma, teaches the most important employability skill of them all: looking smarter than you are.
Join me in Brian Cox 1002. It will teach you to do anything: get your dream job, chat up arts students, or just brood on the edge of a cliff like a sexy scientific cormorant. I will be taking sign-ups at the start of next year. If you would like more information, contact the Physics school office and ask for Professor James Leech.