Friday, 20 October 2006

This warmed my deep-frozen academic heart. The excerpt below is from an article in the Guardian. The subject of the interview is musician, astronomer and author Brian May, whose PhD studies were halted by the success of his band, a four-piece combo called Queen.

We are interrupted at this stage by a knock on the door and Paul Murdin, a professor of astronomy at Cambridge University and the treasurer of the RAS, walks in. He looks at May and blinks. May blinks back at him. The two men sit down and talk, with great passion and interest, about new developments in astronomy. They discuss the telescope in Tenerife, which when completed will be the biggest in the world. May has been invited to write and perform a piece of music for the grand opening.

"Yes," says Murdin, "of course the difficulty will be to write something that is inspiring without being sentimental."

May looks fleetingly glum. Then the professor asks him about his special interests.

"Zodiacal light."

Murdin blinks. Then he gives May the name of an eminent scholar in the US who might be willing to supervise the musician, should he wish to complete his PhD. ("Fortunately for me," May tells me, "zodiacal light has become kind of trendy again, because we're finding zodiacal clouds around other stars now, as you probably know.")

Tentatively, May says, "Would it be OK if I just emailed him, out of the blue?"

Even Murdin is cognisant of the modesty of this remark. "I think that would be fine," he says and from their different planets, the two men smile warmly at one another.

May co-authored Bang! The Complete History of the Universe with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott.


Anonymous said...

Quite so. Chris, UK.

Snail said...

I wish some of our students had the same humility and sense of perspective ...

In fact, I wish I did.

Good luck with the book, if you're that Chris. (And a general, more nebulous sort of good luck, if you're not)

Anonymous said...

... just to set the record straight no, I'm not "that" Chris.

But what I really like is modesty and the fact that Brian is still interested in astronomy ... the flame still burns.