Memorial High School students had the experience of a
lifetime recently when professor and chair of the organ
department at Juilliard Paul Jacobs visited their school and
played an organ for them.
But Jacobs didn't just play any organ-he played the organ
the AP Physics students made as part of the school's
"Switched On Physics" project.
"I've never seen anything like this,"Jacobs said. "It's extraordinary what these students have
"Switched On Physics: Engineering, Waves and Alternative
Energy" is a perpetual project in which AP Physics students
designed and built a fully functional digital pipe organ.
The project is a dynamic, multi-faceted combination of
physics, music, engineering, ecological science, performing
arts and mathematics and is designed to generate increased
student interest in advanced engineering, science and high
technology while exposing students to fine music.
Memorial AP Physics teacher and project coordinator Scott
Graham said he was excited for his students to have the
opportunity to meet Jacobs and listen to him play the organ.
"I am a huge fan of the amazing skill Mr. Jacobs has,"
Graham said. "If there could be anything that exceeds his
skill at organ, it would be his passion and enthusiasm for
fine organ music. We are proud to expose our students to the
music and to his positive message of how to realize goals
through hard work and discipline."
In his message to the students, Jacobs expressed his love
and passion for music, which he said is what has carried him
to his success in life and encouraged the students to find
that same love and passion in their interests.
"Passion is the right word for music," Jacobs said. "My love
for music was so intense ever since I was a young boy. Music
is about people and making connections, and my greatest joy
is to share my music with others, such as you are doing
through this extraordinary project."
Graham said he hopes the students took away a deeper
understanding of the musical message Jacobs shared with
"I hope our students realized how much their situations
might possibly have in common with Mr. Jacobs' musical
odyssey, even though it may not be overtly obvious or
apparent," he said. "I also hope our students could see how
dedication can produce excellence in a person's life, and
that they have the means to pursue and realize a dream
through sheer determination and will power."
Graham started the digital organ project as a teacher at
Dobie High School last spring with Dobie AP Physics teacher
Mary Obenauf receiving a $10,000 grant from BP through
KHOU's A+ for Energy program. Moving to Memorial last fall,
Graham and Obenauf decided to expand the project to both
schools to directly impact the nearly 6,000 students at both
schools instead of limiting the project to just one school.
Representatives from BP and KHOU were also present at
Jacobs' recent performance at Memorial.
"BP and KHOU have helped provide a means to the realization
of this project," Graham said. "We can not adequately
express the magnitude of our thanks. It means a great deal
to have the support of BP and KHOU, and the exposure they
have given to our vision will help us share it with
thousands of students. We can not thank them enough for
their interest and participation."
The organ is powered exclusively by solar power cells which
store energy in deep cycle batteries, and it runs from DC
(Direct Current) power and draws 400mAmps. Graham said he
and his colleagues plan to pursue a sustainability proposal
with BP to build a second organ. The organ components are
portable, and students are able to break down the organ to
Many skills were required on behalf of all students involved
in the planning, design and creation of the computer from
"While the project has created the organ which can be
performed by one person, the project captivated the interest
of all students who participated in its design and
construction and it appeals to all students who wish to
hear, play it or design one of their own," Graham said.
Memorial student Matt Koby has been responsible for
programming the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface),
which is an industry-standard protocol that enables
electronic musical instruments, computers and other
equipment to communicate, control and synchronize with each
other. Koby has solely implemented the functionality of the
Musical performance skill is also critical to the successful
final presentation of the organ project, and Dobie student
and regional organ champion John Potter has performance
skills and general knowledge of the organ and music that
have made the final implementation of the project viable.
Although the skills of Potter and Koby are crucial to the
development and production of the digital pipe organ, Graham
said all science students who participate and provide
valuable contributions are necessary to the project's
success as project participants include ESL, IPC, SIOP,
general physics and AP students in ninth through 12th
"Dobie and Memorial students have come together to design
and implement this project, and it would not be a reality
without all of them," Graham said. "This project is the
combination of efforts from a variety of students working in
harmony as a team. Our builders and designers range from
ninth graders to seniors. We are grateful to each of them
and are incredibly impressed with their contributions."
The project recently received a $5,000 mini-grant from the
Pasadena ISD Education Foundation, which will assist in the
beginning construction of the second organ. To help the
world go "green," Graham said he is in hopes of building
operable ranks of pipes from recycled materials such as
glass bottles, metal pipes and bamboo while powering them
exclusively with alternative energy sources. Each year, new
groups of students will design calculate, test and construct
pipes for the organs.
Graham also said a future goal for the project is to take
the organ to as many middle schools and elementary schools
as possible for physics, math and music demonstrations to
encourage young people to enter science and appreciate
"Through this project, we ultimately hope to showcase the
skills of our young musicians and engineers and we hope to
recruit young students into science, technology, engineering
and education careers," Graham said. "We want to help our
students create partnerships for scholarship programs with
our sponsors to help our nation improve the shortages we are
currently facing in these fields."
While it is the work of the students that is making the
project come to life, it is the support of the district and
the community that has made it a reality.
"I hope that Mr. Jacobs, BP, KHOU and our education
foundation can have some idea of the enormity of their
integrated contributions to the realization of this
project," Graham said. "Their support of teachers and
innovative projects allow us to stimulate the creativity of
our students, and it gives our students the opportunity to
see that people care for them and that their needs and
interests are worthwhile and a noble investment. We
appreciate their sharing of our vision and we express to
them our deepest thanks."