The Relationship Between Chemistry and Music

An interview with Peter Banks

Our Director of Studies and Head of Science, Mr Peter Banks, was invited to be a keynote speaker at the American Chemical Society’s National Conference, which was held in Orlando this year. It was attended by nearly 20,000 chemists from all over the world and other keynote speakers included two Nobel prize winners, senior NASA scientists and Buzz Alrdin.

Mr Banks returned to America following last year’s highly successful lectures in Indianapolis where he gave the James J. Woods Lecture 2018 at Butler University speaking about the links between Chemistry and Music. This year, as well as delivering a keynote address, he also chaired a panel discussion of senior chemists and musicians from Ivy League universities and institutions across America.

Here is our interview with him:

Peter, first of all, what is the link between Chemistry and Music?

Well, the links are generally not obvious at first, but are the two subjects are closer aligned than we think. Both disciplines require excellent pattern recognition, fine motor skills and an ability to learn from past mistakes. It is interesting that a large number of chemists are also excellent musicians.

How did you get the opportunity to address such a large number of Chemists?

As a former musician I have always been convinced that there is a link between Chemsitry and Music. Several years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to write an article for a magazine discussing the links between the two subjects. Following a lot of interest in the article I was invited to speak at a few different Universities around the world and this in tern led to this amazing opportunity to visit Orlando!

Whilst you were there, what else did you get to do?

I was only in the States for 4 days in total so spent most of my time in the conference, this meant I didn’t have a lot of time to do much as a tourist, other than quickly taking in the sights and sounds of the everglades and spotting crocodiles I thought I had to take the opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. This was the best decision I have ever made! Visiting a real Apollo rocket, the launch pads and my personal highlight the awesome Space Shuttle Atlantis. Seeing the shuttle up close was extraordinary, the engineering was truly mind-blowing. Equally, seeing and thinking about the mathematics involved in the early space flights (before computers) and the accuracy that they managed to achieve was just out of this world!​