University of Idaho researcher achieves academic success through music – Potato News Today

John O’Connell, University of Idaho College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Pam Hutchinson draws a parallel between spotting weeds in a potato field and a crowd-pleasing drum solo. She performs both seemingly separate but related high-profile feats as a potato cropping system scientist at Idaho State University and as a percussionist with the Idaho Civic Symphony Orchestra and the Pocatello Municipal Orchestra.

At the annual meeting of the American Potato Association in Missoula, Montana, on July 19, Hutchinson offered the evidence in a speech:Repeated Measures: Music and Research,” supporting her belief that music made her a better scientist.

She emphasized that both research and music strengthen similar neurological pathways, improve cognitive functioning, and require complex pattern recognition. Consider hairy foxglove and red foxglove, both troublesome weeds for potato growers. They look very similar until you look more closely at the lobes and toothed patterns on the leaves. And at a superficial glance, the visual representation of the advanced drum cadence looks like a high-level mathematical equation.

“Science and music use formulas and theories to solve problems,” Hutchinson said. “Music education is like research: both have long-term goals and a lot of intensive work to achieve them. In research, it takes weeks, months, years to run an experiment before all the data is ready for analysis.”

Hutchinson titled her presentation “Repeat Measures” to recognize that determining the effectiveness of a weed control method often means measuring results over time. Similarly, successful performance of a part in a song requires measurement and refinement of focus over time with repeated practice.

On stage, Hutchinson must play rhythmic patterns while keeping proper time. Patterns of weed control or survival in farm fields after herbicide treatments inform Hutchinson which post-emergence herbicides to apply from her product arsenal.

“When you play a lot of music, you become a more efficient and resourceful problem solver, able to make decisions more quickly and efficiently,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson reviewed several published studies to support her conclusion. For example, in the journal Science, she found research showing that musical training increases the volume and activity of the corpus callosum, which is a bundle of more than 200 million nerve fibers that connect the right and left sides of the brain.

She notes that drummers are known for being particularly adept at solving problems. In defense of this view, Hutchinson cited a Swedish study that highlights the relationship between the part of the brain responsible for rhythmic timing and problem solving. Study participants completed the 60-question test while following a drum beat, and those who maintained the most consistent rhythm also scored the highest on the tests.

Sam Hutchinson

There are many examples of famous musicians who were also accomplished researchers. For example, guitarist Brian May earned a doctorate in astrophysics three decades after he began pursuing a Ph.D. waiting to form the rock band Queen.

Hutchinson also noticed a similarity between presenting research data at a conference and a live concert.

“Your nerves and excitement, the applause — only at a conference or a concert can you, as a musician or a scientist, share what you’re working on,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson previously gave a similar presentation to the Western Weed Science Society, focusing on the relationship between musical and scientific acuity. A couple of months ago, she expanded it to cover the similarity of repeating bars for music and research.

Hutchinson began taking drum and piano lessons when she was 10 years old, often performing in competitions. She continued to play drums in high school and joined the drum line and percussion ensemble while earning a BA in agronomy from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in weed science from South Dakota State University. When she got a promotion and tenure at the U of I, she rewarded herself by joining the orchestra and summer band in Pocatello. She is well known in southeast Idaho for wearing elaborate costumes, once dressing up as a Christmas tree for the Idaho Civic Symphony Orchestra’s annual holiday concert.

She also played solo with bands at Aberdeen High School and played with the pit band in the school’s performance of “The Sound of Music,” creating thunder and lightning with her drums and cymbals.

The most common question Hutchinson is asked after presentations on the connection between music and mathematics and research is whether people can benefit just by listening to music. While Hutchinson agrees that listening to music is a fantastic activity, she explains that playing and learning music is what gives the brain a boost.

“Physically playing and reading music and translating from what your eyes see to what your hands are doing, that’s what strengthens that connection in the brain,” Hutchinson said. “It’s a repeated measurement of performance to become a better musician and researcher.”

Author of the article: John O’Connell, Associate Director of Communications, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Idaho
(208) 530-5959
[email protected]

Researcher: Pam Hutchinson, University of Idaho Potato Crop System Weed Specialist
(208) 844-6318
[email protected]

Cover photo: Pam Hutchinson University of Idaho researcher achieves academic success through music – Potato News Today

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