Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top
decorative element

World Class Scientist Plays Piano in Unique Lecture

Published on April 13, 2016

World Class Scientist Plays Piano in Unique Lecture

Edison Liu, president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), is also an accomplished jazz pianist. On April 11, he visited Eastern Connecticut State University to lecture and perform in a presentation titled “The Interconnection between Science and Creativity.” Liu was accompanied by fellow JAX researcher Basile Tarchini, who also happens to play the double bass.

The two scientists opened with a delicate jazz rendition of the classic song “Over the Rainbow.” After the final note, Liu rose from his seat and said, “Often the public thinks that if you’re a scientist, you’re hardnosed and purely logical, and that if you’re an artist, you’re aesthetic and illogical.” He went on to explain that the processes of art and science are very much the same. “Both tell a story, and creativity is a fundamental element. Creativity is hardwired in us as humans,” he said, suggesting that people from the two camps merely have different ways of expressing their creativity.

While Liu is a renowned researcher focusing on genomics and cancer, he is also an adept composer, and explained that writing a piece of music is similar to scientific experimentation. He and Tarchini played two of his original pieces. “Each part is composed separately and then pieced together,” he explained. “Through trial and error, they are stitched into some narrative form.” He added, “There’s no artist or scientist who’s any good who hasn’t failed.”

The artistic process, Liu said, requires one to sense, imagine, create and marvel. Conversely, he said the scientific process requires measurement, modeling (hypothesizing), constructing and archiving. Relating the two creative processes, Liu explained a JAX effort to “create the perfect mouse to crack the cancer problem,” in which researchers alter the genes of mice in order to affect their immune systems and cancer-related developments.

An audience member asked how The Jackson Laboratory encourages a culture of creativity in the workplace. “Just like artists may congregate in an artist colony, so do scientists in the lab.” Liu added that JAX has a relatively flat organizational structure, and researchers are given space and permission to experiment.

On his talents in the lab as well as music, Liu told students, “Malcom Gladwell is right; it takes 10,000 hours” — referencing the book “Outliers: The Story of Success.” On his love of piano: “It’s a tremendous soothing agent. When I’m happy,” he joked, “usually I don’t need the piano.”

Tarchini comes from Switzerland, and is a researcher based in JAX’s Bar Harbor, ME, location. His research focuses on the inner workings of the ear — specifically ‘hair cells’ — which enable balance and hearing, in an effort to develop treatments against hereditary hearing loss.

The lecture/performance took place in the Choral Rehearsal Room of the new Fine Arts Instructional Center and underscored Eastern’s liberal arts commitment as a premier university invested in the arts as well as the sciences. The Jackson Laboratory partnership with Eastern started under the Connecticut Health and Life Sciences Career Initiative (HL-SCI), a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that is designed to prepare workers for Connecticut’s growing health and life sciences sector.

The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution. Its mission is to discover precise genomic solutions for disease and empower the global biomedical community in the shared quest to improve human health.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: Biology, Music