Many well-known scientists over the centuries were also musicians: Galileo was a lute player (his father Vincenzo was a famous professional lutenist), astronomer and composer William Herschel played oboe, organ, and harpsichord, astronomer Caroline Herschel was a fine soprano, Albert Einstein played violin, the famous composer Alexander Borodin was a chemist. More recently, Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter is a cosmologist and violinist, and the lead guitarist from the glam-rock band Queen, Brian May, has a Ph.D. in astrophysics. (Presumably May knows that it’s conservation of angular momentum, not fat-bottomed girls, that make the rockin’ world go ’round, so artistic license must be granted.) Daniel Levitin has serious music and science chops.
The list goes on! If you include the musicians and composers who have found inspiration in science, whole books could be written. (In fact, I’m sure whole books have been written on this topic; I just haven’t looked for them. Leave your favorites in the comments.) The great science/art site The Finch and the Pea has a regular “song of the week” feature, and the rapper GZA of the Wu Tang Clan has a new science-themed project named Dark Matter, with contributions from Neil Tyson and others.
I played with a group in graduate school informally known as the Degrees of Freedom (we are scientists, after all), which was mostly me and guitarist Eric Bersch, but occasionally involved other grad students and academic types around Rutgers. Here’s a song we used to perform:
As you can probably gather, this isn’t a regular blog post, but rather a “I’m too busy to write a real post, so here’s a fill-in” post. So, here are 10 songs (if you’re on Spotify, you can listen along to the entire set), and below that are some other links. Can you guess what’s on my mind today?
- “Bullet the Blue Sky”, U2
- “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, Bruce Springsteen
- “Jonas and Ezekiel”, The Indigo Girls
- “Chamber of Justice”, Vusi Mahlasela
- “Subdivision”, Ani DiFranco
- “She Came Along To Me”, Billy Bragg and Wilco (lyrics by Woody Guthrie)
- “Why We Build the Wall”, by Anaïs Mitchell, sung by Greg Brown
- “On the Turning Away”, Pink Floyd
- “Strange Waters”, Bruce Cockburn (another song we used to play)
- “I Shall Be Released”, Wilco and Fleet Foxes (Bob Dylan cover)
Now, for links!
- As Caleb Scharf points out, this was a great week for planetary science research, with discoveries involving Titan, exoplanets, and Mars’ moon Phobos. In fact, I covered three of these stories myself for Ars Technica:
- Titan may have a global subsurface ocean. Bonus feature: something known as the “Love parameter”, which is a measure of how squashy a moon is.
- Measuring anything about the atmosphere of an exoplanet is tricky, but researchers sometimes get lucky. However, this situation may get better soon: a team of astronomers has determined a way to use the chemical signature of atmospheric absorption of light to determine the orbital properties of the planet itself.
- In our Solar System, there is a clear separation between the rocky terrestrial planets and the gaseous giant planets. However, that’s not the case for other star systems, and one has recently been discovered with two planets in neighboring orbits, but with vastly different sizes and compositions. I’ve named them Laurel and Hardy, but I doubt the community will back me up on it.
- Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer) provides some perspective on the possible discovery of a very massive galaxy that formed too early in the history of the Universe. The verdict: it may be a galaxy, it may not, but if it’s there, it will be challenging to explain how it can exist.
- Have you heard of Salicia? I hadn’t until I read this excellent introduction by Emily Lakdawalla. (Short version: it’s an icy object bigger than Ceres, orbiting beyond Neptune.)
- In honor of baseball season in the United States, Evelyn Lamb analyzed the knuckleball, one of the hardest pitches in baseball to throw and to hit.
- And, more from Ars Technica: hot solar vortices! twisting light to achieve terabit transfer speeds! and a lumpy early Universe!