Life according to Wile E

11th January 2008 at 00:00
"Beep! beep!" The Road Runner smashes through the barn wall, leaving a road runner-shaped hole in the wood siding.

It may be a handy way of escaping Wile E. Coyote and his Acme blasts. But it is also a clear demonstration of cartoon law number 5: "Any body passing through solid matter will leave a hole exactly the same shape as the body going through it."

The cartoon laws have been compiled by Science Made Simple, a group of educators who tour primary schools, testing scientific evidence for the surreal version of reality usually presented in cartoons.

Another law is illustrated with a clip of Wile E. Coyote throwing an anvil off a cliff and then falling off the cliff himself. He hits the ground first; 30 seconds later, the anvil hits him on the head. "Cartoon law 4," the caption reads, "everything falls faster than an anvil."

David Price, communicator for Science Made Simple, stops the clip. He apologises for not having an anvil, but offers a telephone directory instead. Holding a ping-pong ball in one hand and the directory in the other, he drops them both. They hit the floor together.

Then he tests cartoon law 5. In place of a barn door, he offers a five-foot sheet of paper. A pupil runs through it, leaving a giant rip that only the most active imagination could construe as being pupil-shaped. "It's not quite a perfect impression, is it?" he says.

A succession of experiments disprove more cartoon certainties. For example, the rule that bomb blasts leave the victim black and smouldering is tested by creating a small-scale explosion in a teacher's palm.

"Everybody is familiar with cartoons," says Mr Price. "They're universally popular.

"But children suspend disbelief when they watch them. After our show, we hope that whenever children watch cartoons, they'll be exposed to scientific thought processes. Then concepts such as gravity become a little bit more obvious, a little bit more entrenched."

Elizabeth Ormandy agrees. Mr Price recently delivered a workshop to her Year 3 class at Saints Peter and Paul Primary in Kirkby, Merseyside. "Children are awe-inspired by cartoons," she said. "They do realise that life isn't like that: when they fall over in the playground, they know it hurts. But they remember things that are visual and exciting.

"And I like having an excuse to watch cartoons in lessons."

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