Interview with Brian Wecht

Brian Wecht is a theoretical physicist with a degree in jazz composition, as well as one half of the comedy duo Ninja Sex Party. This is a shortened version of a much longer interview, in which he talks about students recognizing him from YouTube, combining an academic day job with comedy in the evenings, and choosing between a PhD in music and science.

It’s not the first time I’ve uploaded a conversation about theoretical physics and jazz composition, but it is the first interview to also mention American flag underwear and a warehouse full of hipsters.

A Ninja Sex Party video for your entertainment. Wear headphones if you’re at work.

Although science and music are separate parts of Brian’s life, he combines science with the stage in his capacity as co-founder of The Story Collider, where people tell stories about science. We didn’t talk about that in the interview, but it’s awesome and you should check it out.

Interview with Philip Howie

Phil Howie is involved in several Cambridge orchestras, but during the day he’s a materials scientist who just finished his PhD. This is a fragment of a conversation we had, in which he talks about the various instruments he plays, and how he combines music and science in his life.

Interview with Michelle Oyen

Michelle Oyen is a lecturer in bioengineering at Cambridge University. You may have come across her name earlier this year, when this video about her lab’s Lego robots was doing the rounds, or in the subsequent Wired article. She’s also a musician (from a very musical family), and almost did a double major in music and engineering, so I asked her some questions about her science/music career. Here’s five minutes from our conversation.

(Sorry for the sound quality: this is recorded on my iPhone instead of any of the recorders I normally use.)

Interview with Boyan Bonev

I met Boyan at a biology workshop in September. As part of the workshop, all thirty participants had to introduce themselves using two slides. The first slide had to be about your work, and the second had to include some interesting non-science-related fact about you. Strangely, only two of the participants mentioned a music-related fact. That’s below what you’d expect from a room full of scientists, but it turns out that a few people just decided to not mention their music on their slide, because they thought it’d be unoriginal. There were actually about four or five musicians there. The two people who did mention music on their introduction slide were me (see my slides here) and Boyan Bonev.

I met Boyan again in April, when we both attended the same conference. He won an award for writing the best developmental biology PhD thesis in the UK this year, and I interviewed him about that for work. Then I left the recorder running, and we did a second interview about science and music. Many thanks to Boyan for agreeing to do two interviews at 8AM on the day after a conference party…

Here’s a fragment of our conversation, in which Boyan talks about his decision to not pursue an academic music career, and explains the Bulgarian system of music education.

The Sci Foo Files 2010 – Part 2: Stephon Alexander

When I hosted the scientists/musicians session at Sci Foo 2010, I had left a recorder running. Unfortunately, it ran out of batteries halfway through, and after recovering the files, I noticed it was missing a large chunk of Stephon Alexander’s fabulous talk about a three dimensional circle of fifths. (No, it’s not a circle if it’s three dimensional, but that’s the best way I can describe it.)┬áLuckily, he was full of amazing stories, and a great speaker, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy these two other audio fragments.

Stephon Alexander is an Associate Professor of Physics at Haverford College. He’s also a saxophone player, and he could very easily have made a career out of music. So why didn’t he? In this first audio fragment he tells the story of growing up in the Bronx and having his music career all laid out for him.

This second audio fragment ends close to where the recording stopped, and I don’t remember how it ended, but it’s the highly entertaining story of how Stephon found an interesting diagram that John Coltrane gave to Yusuf Lateef, and later, on a whim, called Yusuf Lateef out of the blue…

See also: The Sci Foo Files 2010 – Part 1: Hari Manoharan

Interview with me

Remember the interview with Princess Ojiaku? She has also been interviewing scientist-musicians, and she interviewed me as well. We did the interview about a year ago, but it’s now up on her site.

The SciFoo Files 2010 – Part 1: Hari Manoharan

Oh dear, has it really been a year?

In the summer of 2010 I was at Sci Foo camp – a gathering for scientists, writers, computer geeks, artists, and likeminded folk. Somehow, an entire year has passed since then, and Sci Foo 2011 is currently underway, but I never got around to uploading the wonderful things I have from last year!

At Sci Foo, participants create the schedule. There are empty programs on which you can suggest something you want to talk about. On opening night, there is a mad rush to get a time slot, and I managed to get a session about science and music on the program. There were 12 concurrent sessions and my session attracted about 8 people if I remember correctly. I shared what I’d been doing with this project, and played an audio file of a compilation of some of my interviewees talking about making the decision between science and music and we discussed among the audience there how they saw the connection between science and music. I have several audio clips from that discussion which I will upload next time, but here is a more complete story from one of the participants.

What does a copper atom sound like?

After proposing this talk, I got an email from fellow Sci Foo attendee Hari Manoharan, who had brought some science/music-related things of his own, so we decided to combine forces, and he let us see and HEAR the research he’d been doing.

His lab found a way to physically manipulate atoms, one by one, but the probe they use can either see or move an atom – not both at once. Due to this limitation, they could only visualize stationary states, not the movement itself. But there was a way to follow the movement via audio, and Hari explains this in the following talk. Near the end, you will be able hear some of his research, and hear how different atoms and molecules sound!

(Sorry the volume of this file is so low…)

Visit Hari’s lab website to find out more.

Interview with Baba Brinkman

After talking to several musicians who had a formal background in science, I thought it was time to interview someone who ended up in science communication by way of music.

Listen to find out how Baba Brinkman “evolved” from medieval literature scholar to evolution rapper:

[audio:|titles=Baba Brinkman for blog]

Baba is currently currently working on adapting his “Rap Guide to Evolution” to a DVD with some funding from the Wellcome Trust, but he’s also raising additional funding to make the videos just that more awesome. This is done through crowdsourcing, where you can donate a small amount in exchange for digital downloads of the final product, or more in exchange for a future physical DVD, or even more for their own image in the music videos. There are still 18 days left in the funding drive, with a few thousand pounds still to go, so help him out if you can. Here’s the trailer for the DVD:

Interview with Helen Arney

Helen Arney is a comedian who sings hilarious songs about dates gone wrong, unfortunate romantic gestures, biology, ostheopaths, and statistics… We talked about her background in science, about giving audiences something to think about, and the scientific experimental aspect of comedy.

[audio:|titles=Helen Arney Interview]

And two songs – one slightly geekier than the other, but both are hilarious:

Interview with Martin Archer

By day, Martin Archer is a PhD student in space plasma physics. By night, he entertains Londoners as a DJ for the radio station Kiss 100. Those may sound like two entirely unrelated pursuits, but Martin is now combining both careers in an upcoming project called DJ Physics, in collaboration with the Royal Institution. We talked about that, as well as his podcast “Droppin Science” in this interview: