The Stage is Set. The camera is rolling, recording the strange ritual unfolding in front of it. A 30-something man called Andreas Wahl stands in front of a totally real, totally loaded rifle. Wahl is holding a string in his hand, and the other end of the string is connected to the trigger of the rifle. The anxiety is visible on Wahl’s face as he pulls the string, and the rifle goes off with a bang!
The bullet explodes out of the mouth of the gun, moving with deadly speed towards the motionless Wahl. But then the bullet begins to drift towards the bottom, its speed decreasing exponentially until it finally flutters harmlessly to the ground, missing Wahl completely. Looks like this dude with a death wish won’t be biting the bullet today.
Except that Andreas Wahl isn’t really suicidal. And this isn’t a snuff film, but a science experiment. Most importantly, Wahl and the Gun are both underwater when the gun goes off.
BTW, That’s his Reflection and not just a really weird case of conjoined twins
The New Virtual Classroom
This was the content of a video posted to Youtube more than a year ago, since which time it has racked up more than 20 million views. The creator of the video isn’t some idiot prankster looking to rack up views online, but a Norwegian Physicist who was conducting an experiment on the difference on the resistance offered by air and water in the most dramatic way he could think of.
Wahl survived the experiment because of a very simple but very important fact of nature: water is denser than air. Water molecules are packed a lot more closely together than air molecules, which means they cannot be pushed aside as easily by the fired bullet as air molecules. Thus, while firing a rifle in the open air would allow the bullet to tear furiously through hundreds of meters of the atmosphere in seconds to destroy its target, that same fury would not be enough to overcome the resistance offered if the bullet is fired underwater.
Or If the bullet was facing The Chosen One
Look and Learn
If you’re thinking there’s a less dangerous way to prove water offers more resistance than air, then you’re not seeing the experiment from Wahl’s point of view. The ‘Underwater Gun’ experiment is actually one of many that he has conducted over the years, and all of them have been purposely over-the-top and dangerous. Wahl’s logic is simple: people will come for the cheap thrill of watching a potentially deadly accident occur in front of the camera, but they’ll stay for the science.
Andreas Wahl has a goal, then, but the goal is not to do something stupidly dangerous in front of the camera, but rather to use social media to draw an audience for his experiments, whom he will then teach about the world of physics.
So he’s basically a cross between Bill Nye and David Blaine
Andreas Wahl isn’t the only person with a scientific temperament to seek out an audience online. One of the most popular YouTubers today is VSauce, who has made a remarkable career out of answering questions of a scientific or philosophical nature that may seem too counter-intuitive, obscure, or downright silly to be discussed in class or on TV shows.
But no question is too stupid to be answered on youtube, and depending on how well the presentation of the answer has been, you can count on millions of people from around the world watching your video and having a passionate discussion about the answers you provided in the comments section.
In the only language the Internet understands
TV Getting in on the Act
What’s interesting is, the popularity of youtube science gurus has now leaked into the world of television as well. National Geographic devotes almost an hour to a program called ‘Science of Stupid‘, which takes youtube videos of actual accidents and uses them as a jumping-off point to discuss the laws of physics and chemistry which led up to that accident occurring, with a rotating collection of science majors, professors and physicists offering simple explanations for the layman audience.
Youtubers like Andreas Wahl and VSauce provide a striking rebuke to those who dismiss youtube creators as merely attention-seeking amateurs churning out sub-standard trash for a generation of viewers who’s tastes have devolved.
Wahl may use the worst aspects of attention-seeking behaviour to make his point, but the fact remains that his antics are very successful in capturing the attention of his audience, and if, in the process, that audience comes to know a thing or two about water vs wind resistance, then Wahl has discovered the holy grail of teaching: making the coursework interesting and relevant to your students by drawing on real-world examples.
Although teaching as Batman can be equally effective
Of course, there are few teachers like Andreas Wahl on YouTube, and far too many people who take advantage of the video camera in their mobile phones to film the most disheartening, disquieting or downright revolting videos with no objective other than to rack up millions of views and the accompanying money from ads and YouTube.
Here’s hoping Wahl and VSauce’s success encourages more genuine teachers to think outside the box and take advantage of social media to improve the content of their lessons and the scope of their audience.