Friday, September 19, 2014

AdMU days: let's talk about mutants

I've taken up a teaching assignment at the Ateneo de Manila University. This semester, I teach Biotechnology for Everyone, a course designed for non-biology majors. I'll write about my experiences from time to time.

How could I not touch upon mutations in a course called Biotechnology, right? But how do I discuss this topic with students who aren't biology majors and get their attention? 

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie billboard along the southbound direction of C-5 road gave me an idea. When the day came to discuss mutations, I gave these pizza-loving characters as examples, albeit fictional, of mutants. I couldn't remember who the mutant rat sensei was in the cartoon series. 

One student blurted out, "Master Shifu!" That ground my science lecture thoughts to a halt. I totally didn't expect that answer. 

I responded, "Wrong cartoon! This isn't Kung-Fu Panda."

Another student addressed the first student, "Dude, it's Splinter; the sensei is Splinter."

Just as I thought the class was ready to move out of pop culture and was ready to discuss the scientific details of mutations, I got barraged by questions:

Is the mutation of Wolverine (adamantium in the bones) possible in real life?
Can the mutation that happened to Captain America happen in real life?
What about Spiderman?
How about the rest of the X-Men?

Goodness! This has got to be one of the most actively participated lectures I've handled! I was just relieved that I've seen most of the movies they mentioned... and they didn't ask about characters in the DC Universe (I'm pretty sure Superman isn't a mutant... hehe).

Lesson learned: When I talk science to students, I also have to bring with me an arsenal of pop culture references. A huge one.