Robert Stanley, a tenured associate professor of chemistry and an adjunct professor of biochemistry at Temple, is a man whose affinity for science is only equaled by his love for music.
“Music is connected with science not in anyway I can verbalize easily,” Stanley said. “There is a certain order and sense of proportion in music that fits well with science.”
Music contains internally consistent rules and science is the act of discovering the internal rules of nature. “Music is the mirror of nature,” he stated.
Although music and science are so delicately intertwined in the life of Robert Stanley, his success at both has not been mutual.
In 1981, while at Penn State, Stanley decided to put his quest for higher degrees in science on hold, and moved to New York to pursue a career in music. His struggle between music and science could be described in a story by Plato.
In “Phaedrus,” the character has a dream about riding a chariot pulled by two horses, one white to represent reason and the other dark, representing human emotions.
“The horses have different motivations and different directions, we eventually discover these horses represent divergent aspects of the human psyche. It was the same for me,” Stanley said, “I had these two forces in my life pulling me in opposite career directions.”
After 5 years of attempting to succeed as a musician, Stanley realized it was futile effort. “I could never consistently play a note perfect audition,” he said. “If I were to make a career in music, it would have to be as a second clarinetist in the Little Rock, Arkansas Symphony and I could see no glory in that.”
When he realized he would not become a successful musician, Stanley felt his life metaphorically crashing down. Stanley slowly dragged himself back to science.
His advisor at Penn State graciously accepted him back, and by 1991 received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry. Preceding his post-doctorate work in biophysical chemistry at Stanford, Stanley joined the Temple University faculty in 1996.
Stanley’s love for music and science was cultivated at a young age, when a family friend allowed him to visit the University of California-Los Angeles laboratory.
“He allowed me to twiddle knobs in his laboratory, and he answered all of my questions,” Stanley said.
While entranced by his chemistry set, he recalls his mother’s love for music. “We listened to everything from Beethoven to Simon and Garfunkel and the Beetles,” Stanley said.
Throughout high school his love for music and science converged. Stanley enrolled at the University of California-San Diego at the age of 18, only to transfer two years later to the University of California-Berkeley. He maintained a high grade point average by consistently excelling in his music courses.
At 48, Robert Stanley is married and is a father to an adopted 5-year old daughter named Julia. Stanley. He has pursued and succeeded at science, while still enveloping himself in music While working, Stanley will play Schubert, Mozart, or Beethoven, specifically to distract him from his work.
Sometimes he does not even need to play the music aloud. “I have so much music in my ear, I hear it all the time. It is a backdrop to my life,” Stanley said.
Obaid Siddiqu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.