Musicians influence science and scientists in many different ways!

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Francis Crick Institute in London. This is one of the world’s top research institutes, but I was there to talk about why science needs musicians, at a half-day music symposium.

This is a short summary of my talk, listing some of the ways that musicians are influencing science.

Scientists making music

Music as part of science culture

Music as a welcome distraction for scientists

This was definitely the case for me, when I was still working in a lab. I absolutely needed to spend some time with my orchestra pals once a week and focus on a completely different challenge for a few hours!

This summer, Manasi Kulkarni-Khasnis wrote a great essay for the Nature Careers column, in which she described how doing a PhD affected her metal health in a bad way, until she got back into music.

“I started planning my work efficiently so that I could get home in time and devote time to music. (…) My experiments started working, or, more accurately, the failures weighed upon me less.” — Manasi Kulkarni-Khasnis

Shared expertise

Using sound technology in scientific research

Another way that sound technology is used in science is through sonification: turning data into sound. Sometimes this is more for fun than for research. You can find several forms of “DNA music” online, where someone turned a genetic code into music, but that music often does not provide much more information than visual or computational analysis does. However, there are some useful applications too. The most famous example of sonification is the use of Geiger counters, where the increased ticking clearly signifies “danger” once the machine gets closer to a radioactive source.

Science communication and education with music

Science songs can also be part of science festivals, science comedy nights, or general geek culture. They Might Be Giants produced an entire album with science songs, and Tom Lehrer’s Element Song is a classic.

They Might Be Giants. Photo by Streetsim on Wikimedia Commons..

Music inspired by science

Musicians supporting science

Science and music are intertwined in many ways, but the strongest link is through the many people who are involved or interested in both fields. Musicians make science more personable and less stressful for scientists. They bring new expertise to scientific fields, and they give science a voice through their work and actions. That’s why science needs musicians.

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

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