In the current issue of Biomicrofluidics, an article about building tiny structures out of nanometersized droplets of biomaterials appears. The movie version of the article might sound vaguely like this: a nanodroplet voyages from a nozzle to a substrateits structure and path are guided along the way by a benevolent electric field. Finally, the droplet is laid down, becoming part of a giant micro-structure that was conceived in the mind of some great unseen force. It's all very dramatic.
Several descriptions of scientific concepts have, in the past, been presented with the help of movies, television shows, or other works of fiction. I am reminded of a lecture I once attended as an undergraduate entitled, "The Economics of The Simpsons." The lecture was so popular that it was repeated every semester, and I happened to go more than once. Not surprisingly, the lecture was consistently filled to capacity with more Simpsons fans than economics enthusiasts. Despite my lack of interest in economics, I did learn a few things about supply and demand.
It's helpful to students new to a conceptas I am to biomicrofluidicsto be presented with a common concept that helps describe how the concept works, even if that concept is something as alien to microfluidics as a cartoon family.
These sorts of interpretations aren't just there for the satisfaction of rabid fans, but are clever learning tools (created by rabid fans) to engage otherwise apathetic students. They take advantage of the plot twists and unexpected actions of fictional characters to help explain complex situations, for example, how a saturated market responds to a price increase, as predicted by the deeds of J. Montgomery Burns.
Professors are getting students excited about economics with the help of a prime-time cartoon. What fictional comparisons can be made to help students understand and explain the complex behavior of fluids on a microscopic scale? What sort of wackyandpopularculturefilled account can we use to describe the actions of the nanodroplets from the article above?
It seems that in the strange world of biomicrofluidics, comparisons become more relevant and interesting if you consider an obtuse fictional work. Samuel Becket claimed:
I'd like to think that the absurdist plays of Beckett may have more to do with biomicrofluidics than American Idol, but I could be wrong. After all, in one of the oldest biological fluid flow systems of mammals, one sperm struggles against millions of other competitors to achieve conception. Replace "sperm" with "singer," and "conception" with "fame and fortune," and students might begin to understand the difficult task the sperm is given.
Let me know when someone comes up with a good microfluidics pop culture interpretation. Who knows, maybe it'll have something to do with The Terminator.