Support Provided ByLearn More

Mollie, Math, And Frogs

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

In the process of editing videos for our series, I often find myself having to research some of the fascinating topics our scientists and engineers talk about. While doing my research, it’s not uncommon for me to find that I’ve gotten carried away and read an entire Wikipedia article; an entire hour blown. Then it’s time to scramble to catch up!

Support Provided ByLearn More
Mollie, Math, And Frogs-dave_post_1a.jpg
She means it… and so do we!

For Mollie’s “secret” video, I knew right away that I wanted to visualize the MIT cheer on-screen as dense and nerdy as possible! But I also wanted to show it correctly (well, as correctly as a cheer comprised of nonsensical mathematics can be rendered), so I started in on my research. And while doing some digging around, I came up with numerous variants of her MIT cheer adapted for a menagerie of universities.

Here’s one from RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute):

e to the x dy dx

tangent, secant, cosine, sine


square root, cube root, log of pi

disintegrate them RPI!

Northwestern University introduced the asymptote to bend the cheer it to their will:

e to the x, dx dy

e to the y, dy

cosine, tangent, inverse, sine

add an asymptotic line

come on Wildcats, hold that line!

I couldn’t connect this last one to any particular university, but if anyone knows about its origin, please leave a comment and let us know. Also, 10 bonus points to the first person who can identify the significance of 2.71828 without going to Google!

radical, transcendental, pi

secant, cosine, tangent, sine



come on folks let’s integerate!

So what’s the actual origin of the cheer? There are accounts going all the way back to the 1930’s, such as this ancestral version from Caltech:

e to the x, the x, the x,

e to the x, dx, delta x

sliiiiiiide rule, tech tech tech tech!

A commenter at another blog noted the similarity in the cadence between this version and a line from one of Aristophanes’ plays, as delivered by a chorus making the sound of frogs from off stage:

brekekekex, ko ax, ko ax! (e to the x, the x, the x!)

Would that make the inspiration for the cheer 2,400 years old?

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.