Eleven scientific discoveries made by musicians

Eva Amsen 🔬🎶
5 min readMay 2, 2018
Photo of Brian May by Maria Sealey from Pexels

Musicians make us dance, sway, sing along, and tap our feet. But did you know some of them also spend a lot of time studying science? Below are eleven scientific discoveries made by professional musicians, in fields ranging from astrophysics to neuroscience.

1. The planet Uranus

Discovered by William Herschel (composer)

William Herschel was the composer and organist at the Octagon Chapel in Bath, England, but in his spare time he made telescopes. His telescopes were so good, he was able to view the night sky in much more detail than anyone had ever seen it before, and Herschel became the first person ever to observe the planet Uranus.

2. Eight comets

Discovered by Caroline Herschel (singer)

William’s sister Caroline Herschel moved from Germany to join her brother in England. She worked as a singer, but William also trained her to help him with his astronomy work. Caroline made several discoveries of her own, including eight comets, and was the first woman to receive an official salary for scientific work.

Dexter Holland. Photo by opethpainter on Flickr

3. New information about HIV genetics

Discovered by Dexter Holland (lead singer — The Offspring)

When The Offspring became successful, lead singer Dexter Holland abandoned his PhD in molecular biology to focus on music. Years later, he enrolled again, and in 2013 he published a research paper on his work on microRNAs in HIV. MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules that regulate how genetic information is processed within cells. Holland discovered the genetic information for several new microRNAs in the HIV genome that could play a role in the persistent survival skills of the virus. He received his PhD in 2017.

4. A chemical reaction

Discovered by Alexander Borodin (composer)

Composer Alexander Borodin is famous for his string quartets and he posthumously won a Tony Award for the musical Kismet, which was based on music from his opera Prince

Eva Amsen 🔬🎶

Writer, science communicator, musician. Find more of my writing at Forbes.com, Undark, Nature, Nautilus, The Scientist, Hakai and other places.