Westminster student replaces the stage with the lab
by Krista DeAngelis
Heavy metal and halophiles typically don’t go hand-in-hand—much less get mentioned in the same sentence —but in the case of Westminster’s Dan Jones (’17), they’re a perfect match. After touring the globe with deathcore band Chelsea Grin and rocking out to songs like “My Damnation” and “Ashes to Ashes,” Dan decided to trade in his guitars and groupies for genetics textbooks and final exams.
For the tattoo-laden pre-med major, being a rock star just wasn’t enough. Although he enjoyed the camaraderie of his bandmates and the energy exuded in playing in front of a large crowd, he always knew he wanted to go to school. In the spring of 2013, Dan enrolled in several classes at Westminster, and after writing his English 110 research paper on stem cells, he found his calling: science.
“I found it fascinating and exciting,” he says. “I had to do a bunch of research for the paper, and I thought it was really interesting.”
For someone who attended four different high schools in the span of four years—and hated learning about subjects like math and science—this was a breakthrough. “I really did not have a good experience in high school overall,” says Dan, whose bandmates now refer to him as Dr. Jones. “I was all over the place, so I never would have thought I would be where I am now, specifically in terms of math and science.”
While at Westminster, Dan has become a researcher in Dr. Bonnie Baxter’s lab, where he studies the salty microorganisms (aka “halophiles”) of Great Salt Lake—specifically, how halophiles manage the extreme sunlight in their environment. He designed a program to analyze halophiles to look for DNA targets for ultraviolet light.
“From reading the literature, Dan came up with his own ideas about how halophiles deal with sunlight exposure and avoid DNA damage,” Bonnie says. “He had read an old notion that no one had tested, and he wanted to do that. Within a few weeks, he had data that supported his hypothesis.”
Now, the heavy-metal-rocker-turned-scientist hopes to become a surgeon. “I’ve had a lot of people try to sway me from the doctor path, but part of me really wants to be a surgeon,” he says. “Maybe it has something to do with playing guitar, but I want to work with my hands.”
While Dan doesn’t miss the chaos of touring with Chelsea Grin, he still loves music and continues to be both an audio engineer and a songwriter for the band.
“I love what I’m doing right now, and I don’t want to do anything else,” he says. “I really love music, and I listen to music all the time, but my focus is 95 percent science at the moment.”
Number of Tours Played: 20 and counting
Dream Job: Orthopedic spinal surgeon or whatever physician clears astronauts to go into space
Guilty-Pleasure Music: Miley Cyrus, Linkin Park, David Bowie, and Blink 182
Most Embarrassing Lab Experience: In organic chemistry class, he knocked the door off an oven, broke a bunch of glass, and burned his hands.
Favorite Element: Hydrogen
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.