Why Science is Music

I used to immediately associate science with facts, numbers, data, etc. How much ATP is used up in each step of cellular respiration? What is the chemical formula of hydrogen sulfide? Why does DNA behave the way it does? And don’t worry — I know plenty of people who also treat it the same way.

Sometimes it seems like science is just so complicated and academic (image credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-V5GVM5nKE)

However, everything has something a little deeper. If there’s something I don’t like or frankly don’t understand, I challenge myself to see why others can appreciate it. I’ve come to love this practice of “digging deep,” and I’ve had a lot of great, great conversations about what our surroundings can really tell us. As such, my viewpoint on many ideas and topics have changed drastically.

The main point I’m getting at here is that my views of science have changed as well. I’m here to say that science can be more than just an academic discipline. It can be more than just those numbers or facts that we’ve all come to memorize for school. In fact, I’m going to go as far to say that science is like music — it’s an art that has been composed. No matter how you think the harmonious components that make up science were created, I think we can all agree that there are pieces of science that are just beautiful, as if each of its elements were an instrument in an orchestra. I know I may sound cheesy and over-dramatic, but bear with me as we dive into some examples of why science can be just like art or music.

(image credit: http://mentalfloss.com/article/67165/15-groovy-science-music-videos)

Let’s start with a simple example. We all know about Newton’s apple incident, where he formulated the theory of gravity after an apple landed on his head. For those who have taken any physics-related classes, we’ve also heard a thousand times that the acceleration due to gravity equals 9.81 m/s/s, that every mass attracts every other mass in space, and that the gravitational force between two bodies is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. But thinking artistically, it’s pretty cool to think that every mass has been engineered to attract every other mass in the universe, as if there was a creator of this world that wanted each of his creations to be related to each other. If we think about Newton’s theories this way, then it’s like all of life’s mass was made to complement each other, with each component fitting into a grander “melody” that we call gravity.

Was there an orange? (image credit: http://isaacnewtonnewton.blogspot.com/2015/10/new-isaac-newton-gravity-discoveries.html)

I’ve come to appreciate another small example in the research that I am working on — using biomarkers found in urine to screen for liver cancer. Briefly, my project sees if urine can be used as an alternative to blood for cancer screening. If a doctor gave you the choice to give a blood sample or a urine sample, I assume most of you would choose the latter simply because no one likes needles.

The reason why my project is even feasible is because the DNA found circulating in blood (AKA cell-free DNA) has been demonstrated to relocate to the bladder through the kidneys. Thus, it’s possible for us to detect for any modifications to the DNA in urine. When I first was introduced to this field of medicine — called the liquid biopsy — I was frankly blown away by how amazing it sounded. Using your body fluids to screen for diseases? I couldn’t believe how capable technology was.

Liquid Biopsy (image credit: https://blog.aacr.org/liquid-biopsy-promises-and-problems/)

How does this relate to art? Realistically and practically speaking, of course it doesn’t. But once again, taking a “deeper” approach, the biology that allows us to examine this cell-free DNA can rightfully be described as artistic. If you think about it, how inspiring is it to know that our bodies have been engineered in such complex ways, yet we still find ways to utilize these complex elements to our advantage? It’s like an art in itself. The natural functions of our body are there for us to explore, and we have all the time we need. And once we start to discover those new ideas, it’s as if we are continually adding to the rich harmony we call life.

I don’t know if what I wrote makes any sense at all, but I truly believe that there is an art that exists in science. We just have to be willing to accept it as such.

Adam Zhang

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Inspiring scientific literacy, self-efficacy, and student interest in STEM. Run by students from the March for Science: Students for Science

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