Columbia students strolling into their Monday morning “Frontiers of Science” class this week were in for a surprise.
In a bizarre effort to highlight to his students what it takes to study quantum mechanics, professor Emlyn Hughes started off his lecture by stripping down to his underwear. He then sat on a stool in fetal position hugging his knees as a black-clad individual came onto the stage and proceeded to hack up a stuffed animal with a sword, according to the Columbia Daily Spectator. In the meantime, Lil Wayne’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” played in the background as video clips from the 9/11 Twin Towers crash were projected onto a screen in the front of 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 said to explain his little skit.
Student reaction to the spectacle was varied, with some cheering Hughes on while others asked, “How is this funny at all?” In an official statement published on Columbia’s blog “Bwog,” administrators said they supported a “climate of academic freedom” and were happy to give faculty “the widest possible latitude in their teaching and scholarship.”
But while Hughes’ performance was memorable, it is less certain whether his skit had any impact in engaging students more in quantum mechanics. One student told the Columbia Daily Spectator that while the rest of the lecture proceeded normally, she could not focus on anything but the first 10 minutes – or the image of her respected Ivy League professor in his boxers.
Then again, to Hughes’ credit, a quantum mechanics lecture rarely generates this much buzz. See for yourself: