Lorenz Adlung: slam poetry makes science more accessible

The power to surprise people by using beautiful rhymes about science

Lorenz Adlung did not go unnoticed when he took part in the March for Science in Heidelberg, on 22nd April 2017. In this interview with EuroScientist, he tells us about how his scientific journey has been combined with his engagement with the wider public. Below, there are also samples of his slam poetry for our readers to enjoy.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I went to a boarding school specialised in Math & Life Sciences. Then, I decided to study Biology to get a grasp of all the different facets of life. In fact, I took additional Math courses and was immediately attracted to the concepts of Systems Biology. The idea of describing living entities as modular, dynamic systems — which are quantitative and time-resolved — was absolutely stunning to me. Thus, I chose “Systems Biology” as a major as part of my Molecular Biosciences Master’s program. The Master’s as well as my PhD project, both consisted of about 50% of time spent in a wet lab and the other 50% in dry lab work. I’m still intrigued by the interdisciplinary aspects of Systems Biology. It is my firm belief that the challenges in personalised medicine can only be addressed by a combination of theoretical work and standardised experiments.

What gave you the idea to start creating poetry slams to communicate your science?

I was listening to rap music since my early years in high school. Experimenting with the expression and meaning of words is a very inspiring process. Since I work at the intersection between Math & Biology, the right vocabulary is essential to mediate between experts from the different fields. It is similarly important to use an appropriate terminology when talking about science to the lay public.

Besides, speaking — let alone rapping — about science adds several layers of creativity for rhymes and rhythms. The potential to surprise people not only using poetry but also by performing it makes the subject of science slam communication most attractive to me.

The immediate feedback is what is most rewarding. A crowd of 1,800 people ecstatically cheering at you is absolutely priceless! Nothing I have ever experienced in the academic world compares to this experience. Besides, making people think, laugh, understand and applaud is a challenge and a great motivation.

How important is it for your to engage with people outside your field?

The importance of engaging beyond my peers cannot be emphasised enough. Overcoming the borders of scientific disciplines is essential in our quest for innovation. I always try to connect with the theoreticians and the experimentalists. The only way to answer the overarching questions of modern bioscience is collaboration.

Likewise, public outreach is important to explain our novel approaches to all people in our society.

Should lay people should have a greater engagement with science? If so how? And why is this type of communication important?

Yes, they definitely should. We need more opportunities to engage with each other. A vivid exchange between science and the public is key to establish an understanding and broad acceptance of the scientific method. Therefore, it would be good to have a platform for scientists and lay people to come into regular contact. We also need more panel discussions, science slam events, open conferences and, of course, more scientists trained and rewarded for their involvement in science communication.

What is your ambition for the future?

I want to pursue an academic career to become a Professor in Systems Biology, one day. Hopefully, this does not rule out the possibility to further enthusiastically communicate my science.

Lorenz Adlung’s Lyrics

March for Science Heidelberg Slam

Was wäre die Welt ohne Wissenschaft //

kein Satz von Thales keiner von Pythagoras.

Häuser stürzen haltlos, Werke ohne Kraft //

1 Leben ohne Wissen ist 1 Leben ohne Spass.

Es ist krass; drohende Dominanz der Ignoranz //

doch der Sicherheit Vakanz füllen wir mit Toleranz!!

Und ganz, ganz, ganz groß wird die Vision //

ich will die Dinge im Detail, das ist meine Obsession.

Ich konnte schon damals keine Fakten vergessen //

hab als Kleinkind die Weisheit mit Löffeln gefressen.

War wirklich auf Wahrheit und Wissen versessen //

Denn Bildung ist sexy und ich davon besessen.

Ihr seid schön. Der Mensch ist 1 Wissenstier //

Und mich treibt 1 naturgemäßes Gespür.
Kunst kommt von Können, Neues kommt von Neugier //

Und stimmt ihr mir zu, dann gebt mir 1 Yüahr!!

Wenn ich sage: “Wissen”, sagt ihr “schafft Zukunft” – “Wissen” “schafft Zukunft” – “Wissen” “schafft Zukunft”.

When I say “Science”, you say “not silence” – “Science” “not silence” – “Science” “not silence”.

Wissenschaft ist keine Meinung, Wissen ist Eignung //

11.000 Jahre Menschheit – was für 1 Leistung!!
Wenn wir kommunizieren, erreichen wir Beteiligung //

Ich schwöre auf Demokratie, und das ist die Vereidigung.
Das ist Selbstverteidigung gegen Fake News //

Doch der Wissenschaftsbetrieb steht auf tönernem Fuß.
Wir brauchen einen Gruß aus der Mitte der Gesellschaft //

Aufgeklärte Bürger als Betreiber und auch Helfer.

Was ich liebe ist die Wissenschaft //

Ich lebe sie, betreibe sie gewissenhaft.
Und wenn hier irgendjemand meine Passion versteht //

Dann hebt jetzt die Hände und gebt mir 1 OK.

Das O steht für offen, K für Kommunikation //

Wenn wir gemeinsam kämpfen, dann wird das schon.
Das hier ist 1 Protest in neuer Dimension //

für Frieden, Freiheit, Forschung, Fortschritt und Innovation.
Science – raise your fist if you acknowledge what a scientist is.
Wissenschaft – heb’ die Faust, wenn du der Wissenschaft vertraust.

Science – raise your fist if you acknowledge what a scientist is.
Wissenschaft – heb’ die Faust, wenn du der Wissenschaft vertraust.

Now I forgot the lyrics, let’s do some freestyle //

There’s no alternative to facts – no denial!!

International science, independent science //

free & open science, it’s apparent that it rhymes.
In fact, it fits together, for now and forever //

if we’re committed yet, the future will be better

We must stand together and I’m flattered to announce //

If you agree science matters then just raise your fist and bounce!!
If you agree science matters then just raise your fist and bounce!!

If you agree science matters then just raise your fist and bounce!!


Wir müssen vor- nicht nachdenken.

Öffnen nicht einschränken.

Statt ab eher einlenken.

Peer review mehr Beachtung schenken.

Irren ist menschlich, Fehler unendlich //

und das ist hier und jetzt vielleicht die wichtigste Erkenntnis.

Für diesen Trend ist heute die Geburtsstunde //

Wissen schafft Zukunft steht auf der Urkunde
Offenheit macht allen Unterschied aus //

Ja, falsche Fakten sind wahrlich ein Grauß
Doch meine letzte Botschaft, ich bin danach raus //

Seid ihr für freie Forschung, dann gebt jetzt Applaus, Applaus!!

Lorenz Adlung

Panta rhei – Everything flows in Systems Biology

Everything flows but nobody knows //
what really goes (…) when the red blood cell grows: //
Cell cycle, survival, net proliferation //
paracrine signalling, terminal maturation. //
In Systems Biology, I found my personal mission //
to disentangle the process of a cell fate decision. //
High-throughput techniques that we call “the -omics” //
are not as simple as in the funny PhD Comics. //
It’s non-intuitive that’s why we need the math, //
and in the aftermath, after the biology found the math //
we got to know our cells and thus know ourselves. //
And the lesson to learn is: //
No one needs to be concerned with //
her or his thesis. //
We need patience – combat cancer with equations //
for the patients – combat cancer with equations.

Lorenz Adlung

Cover photo credit: Jona Krämer

Go back to the Special Issue on Art & Science

Sabine Louët

Sabine Louët

Editor at EuroScientist
Sabine has a passion for all things related to European research. A physicist by training, she has been covering stories in life science, the physical sciences, technology, policy and innovation for the past 20 years. She was previously the news editor at Nature Biotechnology. She was also involved in the creation of AlphaGalileo. She is the Founder of SciencePOD translating complex science and tech concepts into high-quality articles written in simple language.
Sabine Louët

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