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Art and science

Rocking the status quo in science

27 Jan 2016

In the first Physics World podcast of 2016 you will hear the music and opinions of Bronwen Konecky, a geoscientist and singer-songwriter. Konecky believes that the life of a scientist and the life of a musician have more in common than first meets the eye. For a start, they are both highly creative pursuits that can enable you to travel the world. But – on the negative side – they both face challenges with diversity when it comes to the people who make up these fields professionally

Bronwen Konecky is in discussion with Physics World journalist James Dacey. She describes how she started playing music in her 20s and it is now an important part of her life, alongside her research in paleoclimatology. Every once in a while, her two passions come together as she writes songs inspired by geological processes. You will hear her song “River meander”, which describes the search for a romantic partner in terms of a river meandering through a flood plain.

Of course, Konecky is far from being the only musical scientist in town. Over the past few years there has also been a fashion among researchers for writing songs that explain science more directly, and describe what it is like to be a scientist. You will also hear a couple of these songs in the podcast: the LHC rap performed by particle physicist Kate McAlpine; and a plate-tectonics-inspired parody of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of fire” performed by geophysicist Richard Alley.

Konecky explains how her training as a scientist has aided her musical activities, comparing the way a song riff comes together to the way scientific findings begin to emerge from an initial hypothesis. On a practical level, she says that scientific research has also helped to bring a certain amount of discipline to the way she makes music.

Both science and music have contributed a lot of good to society. But it is also fair to say that both the physical-sciences community and the rock-music industry have faced issues over the years with diversity. Despite the exceptions, both sectors have been dominated by white men. In recent years, the music community has attempted to counter the traditional cultural message, by running rock ‘n’ roll camps for more diverse audiences. Konecky believes that science could borrow some of the formats from these camps to also challenge the status quo in science.

The programme closes out with a sneak preview from an album Konecky is currently working on with her band SwampBirds – it is not to be missed.

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