Monday, December 11, 2017

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In the '90s, Quimby was a member of  Reel Big Fish. Photo by Lauren Radack In the '90s, Quimby was a member of Reel Big Fish. Photo by Lauren Radack
 


From Rock Star to Real Stars

Astronomer Robert Quimby played trombone in a successful ska punk band before giving it up for science.
By Michael Price
 

The Curious Aztec takes you behind the scenes of scientific investigation and discovery taking place at San Diego State University.

This fall, SDSU hired astronomer Robert Quimby as director of the Mount Laguna Observatory. The observatory is notable for a few reasons. It’s located at one of the best places in the Northern Hemisphere for watching the sky. It is one of the few observatories in the country operated by a single university. And it is almost certainly the only one helmed by an honest-to-goodness rock star.

Before Quimby made a name for himself in the astronomical community with his research into superluminous supernovas, he played trombone with the ska punk band Reel Big Fish. This was during the band’s early days, before they broke out big on the radio waves, but we’re counting it.

"I never really dreamed of being a rockstar — I always wanted to be a scientist."

Quimby recalled that as a student at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, he was walking home one day, trombone in hand, when someone leaned out a passing car window and shouted, “Hey, you wanna be in my band?” In fact, he did.

At this time, the band was known as Two For One Special, and their previoust trombone player had been grounded by his parents. So Quimby stepped in, played a few shows, and pretty soon became a permanent member.

The band changed its name to Reel Big Fish, and Quimby played with them throughout his senior year of high school, then toured with them around the country that summer. They produced their debut album Everything Sucks, which features Quimby as one of two trombonists.

Bigger record labels came knocking and pretty soon it became clear to Quimby that the band was getting ready to make it big.

He knew he had a choice: throw in his lot with the band and make a living as a trombonist, or go to college and follow his true passion, astronomy. In the end, science won out and he pursued an astronomy degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

So he quit Reel Big Fish and focused on his studies. The band went on to receive extensive radio airplay and had a video on MTV in 1997 with their song “Sell Out.”

As for Quimby, he would have his biggest hit to date in 2005, when he discovered supernova SN 2005ap, the brightest supernova ever recorded.

“I never really dreamed of being a rockstar,” Quimby said. “I always wanted to be a scientist.”