The music of science
For some people, entering adulthood means setting aside personal passions to pursue careers offering financial security. But Jeff Morris only needed to find a career in harmony with his music.
“When I first came out of high school I was really in to both music and science, but I had to make a decision about which direction I wanted to go,” said Morris, a post-doc researcher in the Richard Lenski Lab.
Morris initially attended college, but decided to leave to pursue his heavy metal music career full time. He played in a number of bands throughout his 20s, but found the most success playing lead guitar for the group “d’hiver mort” (a loose French translation for “of winter death”).
“We released a couple of records and we played a lot of shows,” Morris said. “It was kind of a different thing, but we had a lot of fun.”
Eventually though, when mainstream commercial success eluded him, Morris began to consider returning to school.
“In the end, I started getting towards 30 and I was still making very small amounts of money delivery pizzas for a living to make ends meet,” he said. “That’s fine for some people, but I also had this other possibility that I could move towards, so I decided I would go back to college.”
Now, Morris and the rest of the Lenski researchers are studying experimental evolution – a topic he said fascinates him.
“We attempt to test various theories of evolution using microbes as a model,” Morris explained. “Microbes are ideal for this because they have very large population sizes and they grow very fast.”
By using microbes, the researchers are able to study the evolution of multiple generations in only a couple weeks as opposed to waiting years for generations of animals to potentially evolve.
Morris said working with such a fascinating topic has helped him to see the parallels between his old life and his new one.
“Being an independent musician kind of pre-adapts you for what you are going to have to do as a scientist,” he said. “If you can make it even a little bit as an independent musician you are used to driving yourself to get up and work hard every day out of love for what you do, and that is absolutely the No. 1 trait you have to have to be a successful scientist.”
But, even more importantly, Morris said science still allows him to be creative and express himself by taking pieces of information he has learned elsewhere and recombining them into something new.
“When you’re a musician you do that one way and when you’re a scientist you do it another,” he said. “It really satisfies the same desires.”