The most memorable musical moments can inspire such admiration in some listeners that the songs make fans feel like they’ve transported you to another galaxy. Queen has made a career out of creating such moments of ecstasy that linger decades after the initial recording.
If things had turned out differently, rather than becoming an iconic guitarist within the band, Brian May could have spent the last 50 years staring up at the stars for snippets of wonder.
May went to school to study space and was about to earn a doctorate. in astronomy before the opportunity to pursue his rock star dreams took him away from his studies. May eventually returned to class to complete his doctorate.
Before Queen popped up, May was a budding astronomer
May studied physics and mathematics at Imperial College London, graduating with honors and an associate’s award from the Royal College of Science in physics. He started studying for a doctorate. in astronomy at the same school in 1970, focusing on light reflected from interplanetary dust and its velocity in the plane of the solar system.
It was the same year he joined Queen. Once the group began to gain international fame, they left Imperial in 1974 – but not before co-writing two research papers based on their experiences at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, Spain .
After becoming a revered guitarist, we could all relate if May left her schoolwork incomplete. But in 2006 he returned to Imperial College to finish what he started. May was fortunate that the subject of his thesis, the radial speed of zodiacal light, had not been the subject of much research in the years that followed, but he got the job done anyway. May finally graduated in 2008. (If you want to learn more about May’s work, you can get a copy of her thesis on Imperial’s website.)
Last year, May appeared on an episode of “According to Google” on Radio X, a rock music station in Britain, to answer frequently asked questions about the search engine. When he was asked to talk about his doctorate, the musician was deeply satisfied with his accomplishment.
“I’m very proud of it and it cost me in terms of effort and submersion of my willpower to some extent because the difficulty of doing a PhD. [is that] you have to be very humble because you have to do what someone tells you to do and you are constantly scrutinized and constantly criticized… It was hard but I’m so glad I did it because I’m happy to be doctor.”
He put his otherworldly passion aside to become an iconic guitarist
Queen’s legacy is an ironclad piece of pop music history, but the idolization of Freddie Mercury sometimes diminishes the role of other band members in Queen’s greatness, including May. His intelligence and creativity with the instrument was a crucial element in making the band’s songs such three-dimensional hits.
May has done most of his studio work with the Red Special, an electric guitar he built with his father when he was 16. With it, May was able to make sounds with her guitar that most people wouldn’t even have imagined possible. He was so convincing that early Queen albums came with a note that read, “No synthesizers were used on this album.”
But May was more than just a guitarist. He also wrote many songs for the band, including “We Will Rock You”, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, and “I Want It All”. On the production side, he was Queen’s primary arranger and songwriter, incorporating multi-voiced harmonies that combined beautifully with their arena rock ambitions.
May has released two solo records in her career, back to light in 1992 and Another world in 1998. He also collaborated on two albums with English singer and actor Kerry Ellis, Acoustic by candlelight and Golden days.
May has co-authored a few books on astrophysics
May continued to pursue her interests in astrophysics while performing with Queen’s new lineup.
He has co-authored two books with fellow astrophysicists Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott: Bang! : The complete history of the universe and The cosmic tourist. May’s relationship with Moore also led to an asteroid bearing the artist’s name. 1998 BM30 was named 52665 Brianmay in 2008.
He hasn’t written any other books, but May continues to champion space exploration in various ways. In 2020, he was part of a team that used stereographic projection to represent asteroids in a peer-reviewed paper in the publication Nature Communications.
May is also a member of the advisory board of the NEO-MAPP (Near Earth Object Modeling and Payloads for Protection) project, an EU-funded organization focused on planetary defense and modeling of different asteroid processes.
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