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Scott Wenholz on Music, Sports and Physics

Wenholz has played a variety of musical instruments since he was 8. (Photo courtesy of Scott Wenholz. Click for larger image.)

"People think it must have been a big change going from music to physics, but it really wasn't," says Scott Wenholz. "There's a mathematical side to music. Einstein played violin. I'm amazed at how many physicists are great musicians." Wenholz studied physics and public health, and has also played drums, percussion, guitar, bass and multiple brass instruments since he was 8. "It's who I am. I just do the things I enjoy doing."

Wenholz works in SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory's Department of Energy Site Office as a health physicist. Acting as a sort of liaison between the DOE office and SLAC's radiation and industrial hygiene groups, he's responsible for making sure the groups are meeting all DOE safety standards. His bachelor's degree in physics from Fresno State and Graduate work in public health help him understand the threats posed by hazardous materials on the SLAC campus. "The [radiation and industrial hygiene] groups run a tight ship, which makes my job a lot easier," he says. "I like doing something that really matters. That makes a difference."

Physics always interested Wenholz—but so did music. "I always wanted to play drums. When I was young my mom wanted me to learn 'real music' so she made me learn saxophone and I hated it," he recalls. "Then I started playing drums in the school band and I brought home my sheet music and she was like, 'Wow!' It was so complicated. People think percussion is just drums, but you really have such a vast number of instruments to choose from."

Wenholz competed as an NCAA All-American and later pole vaulted professionally. (Photo courtesy of Scott Wenholz. Click for larger image.)

In high school Wenholz never fit into just one group. He played music and sports, but was also a self-described science geek. He earned a pole vaulting scholarship to Fresno State, where he started out majoring in music, immersing himself in 27 credits a semester with athletics on the side. But Wenholz soon realized how difficult it would be to make a living as a professional musician. "In music, you have to be talented and work hard, to a degree," he says. "But there's a certain amount of luck involved. You have to be in the right place at the right time." Satisfied with his own music knowledge and looking for more stability in his career, Wenholz pursued his love of physics.

After switching to physics, Wenholz still stayed active in athletics and music. In his junior and senior year he played in a cover band on weekends to earn money. He competed as a National Collegiate Athletic Association All-American in the decathlon in 2000 and later pole vaulted professionally for three years. He also coached up until last spring. "I've been involved with track and field for eighteen years straight. It's good to have a break," he says. "But who knows, ten years from now I may get back into it."

A break from track and field has led to an increase in Wenholz's musical endeavors. He is currently recording albums in his home studio with his bands, The Dub 4 and the Jeff Henkin Band. "I've done music forever. If something comes of it, that's great, but if not it doesn't matter," says Wenholz. "It's just what I like doing."

You can see Wenholz perform live on Saturday November 8 at 9:00 P.M. at Blake's on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

—Calla Cofield
SLAC Today, November 5, 2008