by Eliot Baker
Nerds achieved rock star status once Bill Gates became the bespectacled face of world dominance. Around that time, mega-nerds Quentin Tarantino and Beck started dating supermodels. No one foresaw a reverse current.
But are rock stars the new scientists? It’s beginning to look that way. Over the summer, Brian May, lead guitarist for legendary rock band Queen, successfully defended his dissertation “Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud.” So that’s Dr. Rock Star to you all, now.
But Dr. May is not alone. A secret society of rockers have been blinging up lab coats for years, bringing sexy back to science. It might be a more natural union than you’d think: similar regions of the brain light up for musical composition as for decidedly scientific processes such as math, spacial negotiation and linguistics.
So if your science career just isn’t taking off, take heart—you might have a future in rock n’ roll. Just look at these folks.
Brian May: One of rock’s greatest guitarists, Professor May has evolved from big-haired rock god to big-haired rock doc. Here he is, receiving his PhD at Queen Mary, University of London, for his thesis titled: “Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud.” He’s also something of a science writer, having penned a book called Bang! The Complete History of the Universe.
Dexter Holland: The Offspring frontman would have accepted University of Southern California’s invitation to complete his PhD in Molecular Biology had his rock band side-project not launched him into fame and fortune. As it is, he still has his Master’s in molecular biology from USC to fall back on if the rock market crashes.
Art Garfunkel: While receiving his Bachelor’s in art history at Columbia University, Garfunkel sang for the school’s all-male a cappella group, the Kingsmen (as did Dr. Robert Leonard, whose band, Sha Na Na played Woodstock before he became a professor of linguistics at Hofstra). Garfunkel later received a Master’s degree in mathematics from Columbia.
Greg Graffin, The brains and voice behind the notoriously loud, brainy punk band, Bad Religion, seems drawn to duality. His PhD dissertation at Cornell examined the collision between evolution and religion (he’s a Darwin fan with a scholarly interest in religion). He published a general science book in 2006 titled, Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? Dr. Graffin is a professor of Life Sciences at UCLA, although he admits to favoring music and writing.
Mira Aroyo The 30-year-old Bulgarian electropop diva received her Doctor of Philosophy in molecular genetics from Oxford University, proving women scientists do in fact rock. Eat your heart out (deposed Harvard dean) Larry Summers.
Tom Scholz, Founding guitarist of the band, Boston, received his MSc in engineering from MIT.