Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Scientist: Tom Lehrer


This week we've got another mad scientist who isn't really mad, although, if you go around singing some of his lesser-known songs, people might think you are. We speak, of course, of Tom Lehrer, whose work you probably know from The Electric Company -- he's the guy who brought you the songs about "ly," "ou", "silent e," "n't," "sn," and so on. There's video of him in concert on YouTube, but I think the best introduction to his musical stylings is this flash animation of his song about the periodic table, or this slightly less elaborate one:

Oh, and if you're wondering why he's in the "mad scientist" column:

After graduating from Harvard with a B.A. in mathematics at the early age of 18 ("Everyone in college was young then because ... everyone who was not young was in the army"), he stayed on to receive his M.A. the following year. Content (for the moment) in the world of academia, Lehrer entered Harvard's doctoral program, where he would remain on and off for the next sixteen years. During that time, Lehrer held teaching appointments at MIT, Harvard and Wellesley, worked for several defense contractors (including the Atomic Energy Commission's nuclear laboratory in Los Alamos,) and, when convinced he could find a position "which did not involve shooting anybody or having anybody shoot at me," he joined the army for a two year stint.

Lehrer was also an inventor -- he apparently claims to have invented the jello shot. He tends to inspire passionate devotion (our very own Mangesh was a big fan in childhood), so consider yourself warned; if you click on all those links you're apt to start saying things like "Tom Lehrer is the most brilliant creative genius that America has produced in almost 200 years," which may in fact be true.