News | Academics

Hughes tones down Frontiers of Science lecture, but questions remain

  • FROSCANITY, PT. TWO | Physics professor Emlyn Hughes' lecture Monday in Horace Mann Auditorium at Teachers College was toned down from his national media-attracting act last week, but questions about his intentions remain.

Physics professor Emlyn Hughes, who attracted national media attention for stripping at a Frontiers of Science lecture last week, toned down his antics for Monday’s lecture on the development of nuclear bombs and their proliferation, but still left some students puzzled by his actions.

Hughes began this lecture, like the previous one, with rap music—“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio—set to a video of nuclear devastation, and also featured a ninja, who did not return after the introductory sequence.

Clad once again in a black hoodie and sunglasses, Hughes acknowledged the national hubbub over his performance, saying that he had turned Horace Mann Auditorium at Teachers College into “the most famous classroom in America.”

But in spite of his odd attire, he quickly got down to business with a lecture that examined both the physics and politics of nuclear weapons in detail.

Only one other stunt occurred in the course of the hour-and-a-half long lecture. As Hughes discussed the repellent properties of like particles, twin girls walked onstage from opposite sides of the auditorium, sat down at desks, and began to type on laptops in sync.

All their actions, from hair-tossing to phone-checking, mirrored each other perfectly. After about three minutes, they simultaneously packed up and left, without any acknowledgement from Hughes.

In a question and answer session, when a student asked him about the situation, Hughes told students that they had “more to talk about” at the next lecture, and that they would have a “good, long talk.”

Security was tight at the lecture—students were required to present CUIDs to enter the building, and teaching assistants with iPads checked to make sure students were enrolled in the course. Before Hughes came on stage, Frontiers of Science coordinator Ivana Nikolic Hughes—Emlyn’s wife—told students that no photo, video, or audio recording was allowed.

Some students said after the lecture that they had expected an explanation for Hughes’ behavior.

“I can’t say I’m able to put together exactly what the overall vision is,” Russell Moors, GS, said. “I could use some traction.”

Moors said that the shift in mood was to be expected.

“I was disappointed, but what we had last time was a surprise,” he said. “Coming into lecture, there was no way of telling what happened next. I don’t think anything that he could have done this week would have been nearly as engaging or surprising.”

Chayenne Skeete, CC ’16, said she believes the mystery of the twins will unravel next week.

“I was just a bit confused by ... the demonstration, but I think he’s going to explain that and he’ll be a good sport,” she said.

Skeete said she was further confused by the media fallout from last week, which she felt detracted from Hughes’ academic purpose.

“He’s a fantastic teacher, which frustrated me when I was reading comments from articles like CNN and ABC, because they were like, ‘Oh, this is what you spend your tuition on?’ It’s like, you don’t understand, those were only the first few minutes of class, and after that he gave an incredible lecture on quantum physics,” Skeete said. “It was just as boring as you would imagine it to be, but just as dry as people would hope.”

natalie.felsen@columbiaspectator.com | @natalie_felsen

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Anonymous posted on

This quote. Why. There were literally hundreds of other students who had things to say.

“It was just as boring as you would imagine it to be, but just as dry as people would hope.”

But maybe, you know, it's like, I don't even understand.

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Anonymous posted on

I think she misquoted me.

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Anonymous posted on

I think in the moment of being interviewed my words came out wrong actually. What I wanted to convey was that people didn't realize that the rest of the lecture after the initial demonstration was just plain old physics teaching. It was everything the public would expect from a physics lecture and it wasn't a "waste of our money". What bothered me is that outsiders, who probably would think quantum physics was dry and boring, are so appalled that at an institution as prestigious as this a teacher dared to be exciting and engaging, as if every class was dry and pedantic. Sorry for my poor choice of words y'all.

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Anonymous posted on

What it was supposed to convey was that the lecture was straight forward teaching for the rest of the class. Onlookers said we were wasting our tuition on silly antics but really the rest of the hour long class was exactly what the public would expect from a physics lecture and that's what people failed to see. Perhaps in the moment of being interviewed the words came out wrong but I did say he's an incredible teacher and gave a fantastic lecture. Both true statements. Just a poor choice of words on my end.

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