Musical Forces Collide
UT Dallas Professor and Particle Physics Colleagues Band Together for Fun

What began as entertainment at a dinner to celebrate the construction of a Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland culminated in an unusual side project among scientists, including UT Dallas’ Dr. Joe Izen.

Izen, professor of physics and principal investigator for the UT Dallas High Energy Physics Group, works on the ATLAS experiment studying the head-on collisions of high-energy particles. Upon joining ATLAS in 2007, Izen quickly discovered fellow scientists there shared his interest in playing music.

The Squirrelheads

Dr. Joe Izen (far right) puts his banjo skills to good use in Squirrelheads in Gravy, a band that plays old-time mountain music.

“Music has been a part of my life for a long time,” Izen said. “During graduate school, I decided I really wanted to play a musical instrument. I started with guitar but within a year I had picked up a $100 banjo and started to learn the clawhammer style of playing as I worked on my PhD. That first banjo sounded terrible, but it served its purpose.”

After coming to Dallas to work on the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in 1991, Izen formed a band called Squirrelheads in Gravy to play old-time Southern mountain music for contra dances hosted by the North Texas Traditional Dance Society.

Squirrelheads joined other ATLAS musicians to create a multi-genre musical endeavor showcasing their talents.

The result: a double album of original material featuring everything from Izen’s mountain music to classical harp and, of course, rock. The scientists released the album on their own label, Neutralino, named after a hypothetical particle in particle physics. The album has a mix of solo and band performances. Some of the musicians, like Izen, play traditional music or covers while others perform original music.

Proceeds from the album, titled Resonance, are being donated to help construct an orphanage in Pokhara, Nepal.

“It is a wonderful experience not only to collaborate on our science research, but on something like this,” Izen said. “I came looking for physics, but was thrilled to be part of this music project with so many talented colleagues.”

ATLAS is the largest of four experiments using the LHC. The physicists and related staff come from 38 countries and 174 universities and laboratories. Its main task is to record the products of the LHC collisions and search for new physics to better understand the forces that have shaped the universe.

The musicians put out Resonance on their own Neutralino label.  Proceeds from the CD, which is available online, benefit an orphanage in Nepal.


Dr. Joe Izen (left) is principal investigator for the UT Dallas High Energy Physics Group. He is shown here with recently graduated McDermott Scholar Alex Palmer at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

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