Physics major finds harmony between science and music
If you are looking for a classically trained trumpeter on campus, and your search doesn’t begin in an upper-level astrophysics course, you’re going to miss out on John Farmer.
Farmer, a rising senior physics major, doesn’t buy into the trope that education in the arts and humanities and education in the sciences are to be mutually exclusive. Before he was a 4.0 college student taking part in groundbreaking research on particle physics and garnering scholarships and awards while simultaneously performing with several Clemson University ensembles, he was honing his chops in quintets, choirs and AP science courses at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.
“I didn’t want to go into science without ever taking music seriously,” said Farmer, a Chesterfield, South Carolina, native. “Music and science complement each other in a number of ways, and I need to be doing both at the same time. When I’m doing research or course work, I always need some sort of creative vent to work with, and the same is true when I’m working with music.”
Farmer was in sixth grade when he first picked up a trumpet, and as a young musician in a band program with only one music class and no private lessons, he longed to experience a higher level of musicianship. This passion drove him to enroll in the Governor’s School for his senior year of high school, where he would learn to balance advanced course work with rigorous musical training and meld his talents in both fields into a cohesive ambition to excel in the physics field.
And it is an ambition that continues to mesmerize his Clemson professors.
“It is the first time I’ve known us to enroll a major with such a background,” said Chad Sosolik, associate professor of physics and astronomy. “His ability to excel at both music and physics speaks volumes about his innate talents and intelligence. He has married his love of music with the pursuit of an advanced scientific degree, and he bears all of the hallmarks of an up-and-coming star in our field.”
Farmer has achieved much scholarly acclaim. He was most recently named “Outstanding Junior in the Sciences” for the College of Engineering and Science and is also one of three Clemson students to be awarded the 2014 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering, an award that covers up to $7,500 of tuition and expenses. And in May, he was informed he would be a 2014 Astronaut Scholar and the recipient of a $10,000 award from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, the largest monetary award given in the United States to science, technology, engineering and math undergraduate college students based solely on merit.
But for Farmer, the awards are not just about the money and the prestige, but rather a testament to how the opportunities he has received as a Clemson student are paving the way for his future.
“The education that I have gotten at Clemson has been amazing, and I cannot speak highly enough of the research opportunities available in the physics department,” Farmer said. “Physics professors are approachable and really want students to do research with them, and when asked, their response is often ‘Sure, show up in the lab tomorrow, and let’s get to work.’”
Farmer also has an impressive profile as a researcher. Last summer, he interned at Fermilab, America’s renowned particle physics and accelerator laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, where he worked on computer simulations of particle physics. He recently returned from a three-month stint in La Serena, Chile, where he completed a NSF-RFU project on variable stars in the Milky Way at the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory — the same observatory where scientists discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe.
Farmer will use his work in Chile toward what he hopes to be his first authored paper in the Astrophysical/Astronomical Journal and a presentation at the January 2015 American Astronomical Society Meeting in Seattle, Washington.
But his research profile does not end there. He’s also been observing at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona and has participated in a Creative Inquiry undergraduate research project on astronomy since 2012.
“He’s a really smart guy — and ambitious,” said assistant professor and astrophysicist Sean Brittain, who worked with Farmer on undergraduate research. “He jumped at the opportunity to apply to Research Experience for Undergraduates in Chile, and he had done enough extra work to get ahead in his classes so that he could afford to take a semester off and still be on track to graduate on time.”
These accolades are music to Farmer’s ears, as his hard work along with the many opportunities he has received for research and field experience have prepared him to pursue a Ph.D. in astroparticle physics. He’s considering several top schools in the country for the continuation of his research, and he’d like for his professional career to include teaching as well as lab work. But rest assured that Farmer’s creative vent will never close.
“I will continue to enjoy composition and performance as a hobby,” Farmer said. “Music will always be a part of my life.”