In this age of hyperbole (where, as Bill Maher has noted, every random coincidence of two things happening at the same time is breathlessly referred to as a “perfect storm”), we hear a lot about “rock stars” of science. Big charismatic personalities who have had important impacts in and outside of their fields, etc, etc. Yeah, some of these guys and gals are great. But they are rock stars only figuratively speaking.
This guy is the Real McCoy:
Brian May, pathbreaking guitarist for Queen (and, in my humble opinion, among the most underappreciated of the great creative rock guitarists in history), is now (well, OK, not quite yet) Dr. Brian May. And, yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is rocket science.
You couldn’t make this story up (from the BBC):
“Queen guitarist Brian May has handed in his astronomy PhD thesis – 36 years after abandoning it to join the band. May recently carried out observational work in Tenerife, where he studied the formation of ‘zodiacal dust clouds’. The subject forms the basis of a 48,000-word thesis for Imperial College, London, where 60-year-old May studied before becoming a rock star. ‘It’s been the longest gap year ever,’ May said. ‘It was a tough decision back then to leave my studies for music.’ But the star said that at the time, his ‘passion for music was stronger’. ‘I’m so proud to be here today,’ he told BBC London. ‘Astronomy has always interested me. I used to love sitting at home and watching Sir Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night.‘
May handed in the thesis, called ‘Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud’, to Imperial’s head of astrophysics Professor Paul Nandra. The guitarist is scheduled to discuss his thesis with the examining board on 23 August, his spokesman said. The results should be known some time shortly after that date. May recently co-authored a book with Sir Patrick Moore. ‘I have no doubt that Brian May would have had a brilliant career in science had he completed his PhD in 1971,’ said astrophysicist Dr Garik Israelian, who worked with May in La Palma. ‘Nevertheless, as a fan of Queen, I am glad that he left science temporarily,’ he added.
May made his first astronomical observations for his thesis at the Observatorio del Teide in Tenerife in 1971, before his rock career took off. He recently published a book on astronomy with The Sky at Night presenter Sir Patrick Moore.”
Now this is a guy I could lift a pint or two with after a scientific meeting. And so, hats off to Dr. Brian May (or is it Dr. Sir Brian May — isn’t he also a Peer of the Realm by now?). The Natural Patriot salutes you as a true Renaissance Man, and for your perseverence through the decades. We wish you all the best for your dissertation defense on the 23rd. Don’t be nervous — remember: you’re the expert on your material. Take in a glass of water in case you need a moment to stall for time in answering a question . . .
And a final note to students: Don’t try this at home! Dr. May’s experience notwithstanding, it’s usually a better idea to finish your thesis first . . .