Growing up with a dad who studied earth sciences, Sarah Worden notes with amusement how her childhood bedroom had unusual décor, such as posters about the differences between good and bad ozone.

Though her path to a science career wasn’t a straight line, perhaps it’s no surprise this early immersion led her to become an earth scientist: Worden will earn her Ph.D. in atmospheric and oceanic sciences from UCLA this month. Next, she will study the carbon and water cycles of tropical rainforests at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to help answer questions about climate change.

Between learning about ozone as a kid and studying water cycles in the Congo rainforest for her doctorate, however, the Southern California native spent years as a concert violinist. She took violin lessons over Skype with a teacher in Moscow before coming to UCLA, where she double-majored in music and physics as an undergraduate.

Art and science may seem like polar opposites on the academic spectrum — literally so on a map of UCLA (North Campus versus South Campus). But coincidentally, the university’s music building and physics building are right next to each other. It was the perfect fit, allowing Worden to practice violin until just minutes before her next physics lecture and reflecting the similarities she sees in both disciplines.

“Whether you’re learning physics or musical compositions, you break it down into basics,” Worden said. “You master the technical skills and then build up the layers to make it more complicated.”

Years of performing in concert halls also helped her overcome her public speaking jitters, she said, making it easier to present her scientific research to an audience.

“The UCLA school of music is good at developing a performance presence that carried over into my presentations,” Worden said. “Both are also about developing a story for your audience. With music, you build up the emotional layers. With science, it’s the story of why the findings are important, why it matters, why I’m excited about it and you should be too.”

She brings that energy to the community, engaging elementary school students in science. Staffing booths at science fairs on campus and around Los Angeles, she teaches students atmospheric science using hands-on projects.

At UCLA’s annual family science show, Exploring Your Universe, she used shaving cream and food coloring to help children learn about the water cycle, clouds and rain. One of her favorite memories is the time she walked two girls through the scientific method, helping them articulate their hypothesis and guiding them through the experiment to see the result.

“We had a clear cup filled with water topped with shaving cream, and we slowly added food dye so you can see that it doesn’t drip through at once but takes time to build up, much like water takes time to build up in clouds before they rain,” she said. “At the end, one of these girls said, ‘Yay, I’m a true scientist now!’ I hope that experience helps her pursue a career in science. It’s important to get people from all backgrounds more involved in earth sciences to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Now Worden’s research will help communicate climate research to the broader public. Her doctoral research focused on learning how moisture from rainforest plants, or evapotranspiration, influences atmospheric moisture for rainfall. Her studies have already identified the ways evapotranspiration in the Congo Basin rainforest shape seasonal rainfall and the dangerous potential tipping points that could dry out its water cycle. Worden won an award from the NASA Postdoctoral Program to study how cycling of water in tropical forests affects photosynthesis.

“This will be important to understand how expected changes in rainfall and drying affect tropical forests,” Worden said. “Climate change threatens these rainforests, which are a key reservoir of Earth’s carbon and an important resource for billions of people.”

Meanwhile, music has become an outlet — and a hobby. A member of the Santa Monica Symphony, she joins chamber music nights and even helped organize a string quartet that played works by Ukrainian composers, raising more than $12,000 for charities supporting humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. She’s also interested in organizations that use climate data to make music, such as by basing tempos or pitch changes on rising temperatures and sea levels.

“I hope to be involved, whether by providing some of the data that goes into these pieces or playing the pieces,” Worden said. “Science is often presented in graphs and plots, but that isn’t accessible to everyone. Changing how we present our science, such as through art and music, can help people connect emotionally with climate change and inspire them to take action.”