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The Role of Fine Arts and Music in STEM Careers

There’s a common misconception that there’s no room for fine arts and music in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers; that the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Take Louis Pasteur, for example. When you hear his name, you probably think about science. (Or milk.) Whatever the case, there’s no denying he was a pioneering chemist and microbiologist.

Yet when he was young, he loved drawing. And he kept this interest throughout his scientific career. Many believe his artistic eye allowed him to make some of his most groundbreaking discoveries.

The Arts and STEM Connection

Every educator at an arts academy middle school or high school can tell you that the benefits of arts integration goes beyond the classroom and into academic careers.

So while in much of the academic world there seems to be a focus on STEM subjects at the cost of arts, others would argue that rather than detracting from science and math, avocations such as crafts, theatre, languages, and music actually enhance their work.

In some cases, the arts can directly inspire scientific queries. On a broader level, they give mathematicians and scientists the opportunity to hone skills such as creativity, perseverance, and dexterity.

The Role of Fine Arts and Music in STEM Careers

A researcher and biologist at Michigan State University found that the most successful scientists are more likely than those with less success to have musical or artistic hobbies.

Furthermore, creative endeavors directly affect their STEM work. When they hit a wall and struggle to find solutions, they can turn to these activities to release and relax. It’s not at all uncommon at this point for a solution to present itself. For many, it becomes something of a strategy for coming up with ideas.

Here are a few examples:

Growing Mammalian Cells on Apple Flesh

Andrew Pelling is a biophysicist who isn’t afraid to think outside the box. He attributes this to an early education in the arts that included performing in front of an audience. Doing so meant he had to acquire a thick skin.

As a result, in his career he’s not afraid to pursue avenues that others may think are ridiculous. He works with a team that includes engineers, scientists, designers, and artists.

At one time, the team decided to attempt to grow mammalian cells on apple flesh with the plant cells removed. It was an entirely non-traditional approach and they received ridicule and hate for even attempting it.

He wouldn’t back down though. The experiments worked. He has since co-founded a company to develop tissues on other plant-based scaffolds. They hope one day to repair injuries to human soft tissues and the spinal cord.

Mango Sorbet On a Gold Spoon

Music and arts require you to work with your hands. And there’s a huge benefit to actually working on a project with your hands versus simply reading about it or writing about it. It offers a different perspective.

Zoe Laughlin is the director of the Institute of Making, a cross-disciplinary club at University College London. She can attest to this.

Laughlin had training in art, design, and textiles before she began her Ph.D. in materials. As such, she had an intuitive understanding of materials. For example, she may not have known the equations to describe the process of casting metals too quickly to know that they would crack.

At any rate, during her Ph.D., she crafted cubes out of different materials. In this way, she created both a library and an art exhibit where students could examine the properties of her chosen materials.

One of the most interesting questions she presented was how different metals could influence the tastes of spoons. Nobody had considered this before. Yet spoons made with copper and zinc lent a bitter taste to food. Meanwhile, gold was tasteless. “I have never tasted anything quite like mango sorbet with a gold spoon,” she said.

Jazz and Antimatter

If you met cosmologist Stephon Alexander, it might surprise you to find out he’s played jazz saxophone since he was 11 years old and now moonlights in a jazz duo.

At one time, Alexander considered a career in music. He decided instead to go into science since it was more stable. Since that time, he’s recognized how very connected the two are.

For example, as a jazz musician, he knows how critical it is to be able to improvise. If he hits the wrong note, he’s learned how to recover quickly and continue playing. He sees this in science as well.

“My practice and my performance in improvisation allow me to take bigger risks with ideas, and not be too attached to the outcomes.” This mindset helped him when he spent weeks attempting to visualize the rapidly expanding Universe. He realized he was on the wrong path.

Once he improvised and found a new path, he was able to develop a model that explained why the Universe contains more matter than antimatter.

Are Things Getting Steamy?

It’s possible that the academic world is beginning to grasp an understanding of the role of fine arts and music in STEM careers.

In 2018, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended that education in these subjects include the arts, design, humanities, and crafts. Eventually, the acronym STEM could gain an A for arts. This would make it STEAM.

It makes perfect sense. “Good science is a creative process,” says Australian soil scientist and poet Alex McBratney. “I don’t see it as being a fundamentally different creative process from writing a great poem or a novel, or [creating] a piece of art.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Integrating Fine Arts and Music in STEM Subjects

If your creative child is struggling with conventional educational models, he or she can benefit from our model of integrating fine arts and music in STEM subjects.

We teach science and math, as well as other subjects, through art to foster a deeper understanding.

So contact us today to find out more about our arts academy high school and middle school and to schedule a tour.


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