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Roger Zarnowski: Math is Music to His Ears

September 09, 2008

Growing up in the small farming community of Halstead, Kan., Roger Zarnowski quickly learned that he was different from all of his five siblings.

First off, they were all girls.  Secondly, while they were his piano teacher mom’s prize pupils, the musical gene in his DNA was apparently dormant.  One of his sisters is a guitar/piano teacher and several of the others still play piano regularly, but Roger found his life’s harmony first in physics and then mathematics.

Now a professor of mathematics at ASU, Dr. Zarnowski can look back and better appreciate that early musical education.

“I tried doing that for a few years and didn’t do so well at it,” Zarnowski said.  “But, there are some interesting relationships between music and mathematics.  One of my sisters and I get into conversations sometimes about her music and my math and how they relate to each other.”

“There are a lot of interesting mathematical relationships among the notes used in different musical scales,” he added.  “From that it gets into digital music and how synthesizers work, things like that.”

An ASU faculty member since 1991, Zarnowski was a finalist for the 2008 Teaching Excellence Award.  He came to Angelo State from the University of Oklahoma because of ASU’s emphasis on teaching and student research.

“Getting to work on research projects with some of the really bright students we get here is a neat experience,” Zarnowski said.  “I’ve been able to explore some areas that were curiosities to me, get some students involved and look into some new things.  It helps keep the mind going.  There is no shortage of cool things to do.”

Currently, Zarnowski teaches mainly calculus and differential equations.  He is also studying the recently developed mathematics involved in image processing for digital cameras and hopes to offer an introductory class on this new topic and its role in today’s technology.  When he is not crunching numbers he gets as far away from walls, bookshelves and computers as he can for outdoor activities like running, biking and visiting state parks.

Zarnowski holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in mathematics from Wichita State University and his Ph.D. in mathematics from Indiana University.  He and his wife, Becky, have a son, Adam, who is a government major at ASU.