News | Academics

Physics professor strips, plays 9/11 footage in bizarre FroSci stunt

  • STRIPPING DOWN FOR SCIENCE | With a remixed version of Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” playing in the background, Physics professor Emlyn Hughes stripped down to his underwear, played footage of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden in a bizzare routine that included ninjas and stuffed animals.

Updated, 10:05 p.m.

First-years in Frontiers of Science were supposed to hear a lecture on quantum mechanics from renowned physics professor Emlyn Hughes on Monday morning. But what they witnessed first was a bizarre performance from Hughes that left many of them baffled and confused.

As students filed into the lecture hall, all of the lights were off, except for two spotlights on stage where Hughes was sitting. With Lil Wayne's “Drop It Like It’s Hot” playing in the background, Hughes stripped down to his underwear, then proceeded to change into a black T-shirt and pants. Afterwards, he sat down on the chair, hugging his knees in a fetal position.

Then, as a jumbled video that included footage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11 continued to play on the screen, two figures dressed in black came on stage with long swords. One of them proceeded to chop a stuffed animal in half on a stool.

Students said they were shocked and confused by what was happening on stage.

Darializa Chevalier, CC ’16, said that she was caught off guard by the whole thing.

“I walked in the class, and the lights were out, so I thought something was off,” she said. “Then the song comes on, and we were like, ‘What version of ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ is this?’”

Danielle Niemann, CC ’16, said that she didn’t realize Hughes was the professor because of how he was dressed.

“I was very confused. I didn’t know if it was the professor or some crazy person,” she said. “I thought I was maybe asleep and it was a dream.”

The video on screen also showed footage of Osama Bin Laden and battles from World War II.

Maura Barry-Garland, CC ’16, said that the incident was all the more disconcerting because Hughes did not provide an explanation for using those images.

“It was very disturbing, and I don’t think anyone in the audience got what he was doing. He didn’t explain it or provide a context, and that’s why it was offensive to me and to other people,” Barry-Garland said.

“This is a school in New York,” Barry-Garland added. “I’m sure lots of people have personal connections to what happened here on 9/11, or have family members who died during World War II.”

Reyna Pacheco Rios, CC ’16, said that she has friend who served in the Marines, and she was shocked when the clip of the 9/11 attacks came on.

“I was like, ‘How is this funny at all?’” Pacheco Rios said.

After the episode, students said that Hughes began teaching the rest of the lecture on quantum mechanics as though nothing had happened. He did, however, wear dark sunglasses and keep his hood up for the entire lecture.

“I was really confused,” Niemann said. “He wore his sunglasses the whole time, so I couldn’t really see his face.”

Rios said that while she was intrigued by what Hughes was doing, she was also thoroughly confused.

“I liked that he was captivating our attention,” she said. “But at the same token, he didn’t take off his sunglasses the whole lecture…I didn’t know what to think of that.”

Others said it was tough to concentrate after witnessing what happened on stage.

“The actual lecture was normal, but I couldn’t get the first 10 minutes out of my head. It was really hilarious, and at the same time, really bizarre,” Chevalier said.

Hughes did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.

It was surprising “that someone would think that was a good idea,” Barry-Garland said.

The performance was not Hughes’ first classroom stunt. In a FroSci lecture in fall 2011, he showed students nude photos of Woodstock attendees.

For a video, see Bwog.

While an earlier version of this article identified the song Hughes played as a remixed version of Snoop Dogg's “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” the song actually played was a Lil Wayne song with the same title. Spectator regrets the error.

Check back for updates.

tracey.wang@columbiaspectator.com | @traceydwang

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Anonymous posted on

this article seems strangely biased

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Anonymous posted on

"It's just incredulous"
-> someone trying to seem smart and failing

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Anonymous posted on

Come on, post a video!

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disqus_R2Ngtp6xxF posted on

Bwog has a video :)

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Anonymous posted on

I agree with anon honestly you guys make it sound like it was a horrific, scarring experience for students and it wasn't at all. Most people were clapping and cheering and then just laughing because obviously we had no idea what was going on, but it definitely woke us up. I feel like this is shining a biased and unflattering light on Professor Hughes--I mean, come on Spec, you can do better.

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Anonymous posted on

While I wouldn't describe it as a scarring experience, I still think it was a poor use of lecture time. Hughes stated that an hour and a half was not long enough to learn about quantum mechanics, but spent more than five minutes on a gimmick to get our attention and then dismissed us twenty minutes early. It seems like even the professors see FroSci as a waste of time...

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brg posted on

Uh, he was using the gimmick to get the attention of some people who weren't in that lecture hall.

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Anonymous posted on

I don't think it should be an Ivy League professor's job to convince students that, "Science is exciting!" It's his job to teach us science.

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brg posted on

I have no hope for your class. I'm not going to waste my time breaking it down for you. Come back to this in a few years, after you've gotten a good taste of Columbia, and try to understand it again.

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Anonymous posted on

Is that how you argue with a Columbia education? Your comment is almost as puerile as the professor's childish decontextualizing of historical images.

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Anonymous posted on

lol this guy can use big words

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brg posted on

My post that called other posts childish has been called childish. This debate is going nowhere fast, which is why I dismissed it. Some people just can't be reasoned with, because they are so steadfast in their narrow-minded opinions that it's impossible for anything else in the world to be true.

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Anonymous posted on

Most of the students are too busy on their cell phones to figure out if science is exciting or not! Takes a lot to get some of these kids attention!!

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Anonymous posted on

Do you guys use Bwog as a source?
It was "Drop it Like It's Hot" by Lil Wayne and Mannie Fresh.

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Anonymous posted on

Heaven help us! Maura Barry-Garland, CC ’16 is offended!

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Anonymous posted on

I'm glad that someone finally understands that it's all about me.
You may send chocolate and handwritten sympathy cards to my room in John Jay. I'll be taking the week off from classes while my delicate sensibilities recover.

On a more serious note, I don't want anyone to think my criticism of the presentation is because of the violent imagery. The images themselves weren't offensive; my elementary school showed the clip of the towers collapsing after 9/11 had occurred and it helped the students understand the gravity of what had happened. Hughes wasn't using the images to get us to empathize with victims of terrorism, though. He was using them to wake us up and to get people talking about his class. That's not an appropriate use for a tragedy, especially one that personally affected multiple students in the room. It's not Hughes' job to blow our minds with his cutting-edge performance art. His job is to teach us about quantum mechanics, and the video did not educate us at all, although it got him the attention he obviously wanted.

In conclusion, if I wanted to see elderly men get naked before I've had my morning coffee, I would join SeekingArrangement.com:
http://www.nydailynews.com/lif...

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Anonymous posted on

Go Maura. Word up.

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Anonymous posted on

bravo

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Anonymous posted on

Maura, you just don't get it, and neither does anyone else on this board. Prof. Hughes, you proved your point, and these responses show that the intelligence and wit of Columbia students is not what it once was.

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Anonymous posted on

then please, intelligent and witty alumnus, explain to us what exactly we were supposed to 'get'. and why it's the responsibility of all of us to suddenly understand the "brilliance" of a guy who strips naked and rocks back and forth in the fetal position and lectures with a hood and sunglasses WITHOUT A GODDAMN EXPLANATION.

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Barry Gillis posted on

Oh my goodness, aren`t we easily offended these days?

Was there any actual nudity? looked like he still had his underwear on.

But hey over reactions are mandatory these days it seems, why would anyone care about a reasoned and calm explanation when they can have screaming morons to entertain them.

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Anonymous posted on

It truly got you talking about his Quantum lecture. There ya go.

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Anonymous posted on

how is this article biased? obviously some people were shocked and offended. just because that there are some differing opinions from your own does not mean they should be attacked for them and it does not make the article biased.

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brg posted on

Clearly these liberal arts freshman (and every other fucking commenter) need to spend a lot more time in liberal arts classes, since none of those that you quoted have any insight at all into what the professor was trying to convey. This, despite the fact that HE EXPLAINED IT AT THE END OF THE VIDEO. #SPECSUCKS

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Anonymous posted on

"My father had worked on the radar effort at MIT during WWII and, as a result, was not drafted. He made the argument that you could end up fighting in a war or you could be a physicist. I fell for it."
-Emlyn hughes

http://www.college.columbia.ed...

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Anonymous posted on

Commenters should keep in mind that this is not a class any of us chose to take or a class that we have the option of dropping. Of course, skipping lecture is always an option, but that may mean giving up an easy 4-credit A. Free speech is one thing, but presenting intentionally disturbing (and completely irrelevant) images to a captive audience is another thing entirely.

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Anonymous posted on

Things that happened to me today:
1) I participated in a Columbia Business School study in which I read an issue of the Spectator and evaluated its trustworthiness as a news source.
2) I was misquoted by Spec.

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Anonymous posted on

Could it be that he’s only illustrating to us how Fascism
is gripping the world around us and we’re not paying attention?

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rick131 posted on

Absolutely brilliant!. Need to get students to think out of the box.

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aggus posted on

The professor thinks that you guys are imbeciles. Therefore he needed to pull stunts in order to keep your attention on things which you are supposed to pay attention too. That confirms my opinion, which I have had all along about Columbia students. Your really are a bunch of imbeciles. Some of you even cheated to get in.

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rick131 posted on

Troll.

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ByondPolitics posted on

The only way I see that this article is biased is that it doesn't do anything to question the pedagogical value of the act. Why wasn't the dean contacted? Or any experts on science education? If tuition is 22K/term, how much did those 5 minutes cost each individual student? About $7.50? It hardly seems worth it.

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nomoremister posted on

Boxers or briefs?

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brg posted on

eternalfacepalm.jpg

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Anonymous posted on

This only shows how far the idea of attracting the attention of the public to hard science by pulling out stupid stunts has gone. I thought TBBT had touched bottom, but Hughes has proved me wrong! Are the days in which Columbia had such professors as Isidor Rabi or Enrico Fermi or T.D. Lee gone? Please prove me wrong again, Columbia.

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Anonymous posted on

Disgusted alumnus Maura • 3 minutes ago

Maura,
you just don't get it, and neither does anyone else on this board.
Prof. Hughes, you proved your point, and these responses show that the
intelligence and wit of Columbia students is not what it once was.

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Anonymous posted on

What point was that supposed to be? Is this what you call intelligence and wit? Come on! What can be more dumb and witless?

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brg posted on

I'm with you, brother.

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Anonymous posted on

quite frankly, i don't think you know what teaching methods rabi or fermi employed...

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Anonymous posted on

Well, you think wrong. While I never met Fermi, I met several of his former students from the U. of Chicago, who told me a lot about him. And let's not forget his little Thermodynamics book he wrote in Columbia. As for Rabi, I was able to meet him, and although I never attended his lectures, I was at some talks he gave. Then of course, we weren't first year liberal arts students. Anyway, I doubt even Feynman, who was a natural showman, would have gone to Hughes' extremes.

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Anonymous posted on

And just like that, FroSci became the most enrolled class on campus. Somehow.

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Anonymous posted on

I see this as a brilliant example of the Everett many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory. Whatever could happen, does happen, in an alternate universe. In this one THAT happened. In another, the students just learned about quantum mechanics. Brilliant.

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Anonymous posted on

Nice try, Hughes.
But you should know that
No amount of contrived classical weirdness
Can approach the twisted marvelousness of quantum reality
Which Nature displays so effortlessly
In each of Her tiniest phenomena.

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johnfwayne94 posted on

Columbia undergrads really do have a stick up their butts. Screw your political correctness. This was a gutsy initiative.

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Anonymous posted on

I've been having second thoughts on this incident. Maybe if it had happened in a contemporary arts class we'd be discussing how innovative Hughes had been. Maybe we'd be even expecting this to become a new trend, since much of contemporary art has to do with it's ability to shock the spectator (no pun intended!) :-) The problem here is: What has this got to do with quantum mechanics?

On the other hand, I'd like to read (listen?) what Hughes has to say about it. Maybe I'm missing something.

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nas posted on

War is bad, quantum mechanics is good. See! They are anti-correlated.

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Anonymous posted on

Isn't this just an enactment of entropy in action, of the natural disorder of the universe, of the uncertainty and randomness which quantum mechanics addresses?

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reddeerrun posted on

He realized his field was dead...At superposition all life is the same life so string theory invalidates pretty much everything.

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Anonymous posted on

I'm sure few people understand what you mean, but I agree. Theoretical physics has gone the wrong way in the past few decades. Applied physics is a whole different story.

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Anonymous posted on

I'm glad I don't go to Columbia. Overrated Ivy-League school whose best times were in the 40's and 50's.

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Anonymous posted on

I'm also glad you don't

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Anonymous posted on

Tip for Spec: Ask administration of Lil Wayne's legal team is involved.

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Anonymous posted on

There are plenty of valid, thoughtful discussions about mysterious quantum behavior, e.g.,

http://web.mit.edu/bskow/www/1...
which Hughes could have used preparing his lecture. This juvenile exhibition wasted time and taught nothing. If anything, it demonstrated Hughes' utter lack of imagination introducing what can be a profoundly interesting topic.

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