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Center Snapshot: Jeremy Pinier
Jeremy Pinier snapshot. Image above: Jeremy Pinier, a conservatory-trained pianist and NASA Langley engineer, sees and hears a link between math and music. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

The music came first. Jeremy Pinier started taking piano lessons at 8, went to a French conservatory as a teenager.

He studied engineering, first at Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Ingenieurs de Constructions Aeronautiques (ENSICA) in Toulouse, then at Syracuse University.

Four years ago, he came to NASA Langley, where he works in the Configuration Aerodynamics Branch for the Research Directorate. Specifically, he works on the next incarnation of the Max Launch Abort System with the NASA Engineering and Safety Center.

An experimentalist at heart, "I like to feel and touch things," he said. "I do a lot of wind tunnel testing."

Most nights though, Pinier is back to music for 90 or so minutes, now as an advocation – or, more properly, an adjunct. Music seems to complement math and engineering for him, and that realization makes him more accomplished at both.

He often plays the classics – Chopin and Debussy are favorites – but just as often sits at the keyboard and improvises. That’s where the math and music marry in progressions, transpositions, harmony, even in the theory that drives the music.

"I don't write it down," he said of the improvisations. "But sometimes I record it if it's halfway decent. I have a couple of songs."

He also has an understanding of how math and music mesh, but that understanding wasn't apparent at first.

"It never occurred to me," Pinier said. "It just happened subconsciously because I do both. After some introspection, after some improvisation, I realized that these things intertwine. I believe music and math feed each other – at least for me."

The son of a French father and American mother who met on holiday in Greece, Pinier's piano skills grew as he did in the French Alps.

"At some point you become good enough to have fun with it, and that's when it can become a passion," he said. "Now it reenergizes me at the end of the day. At the same time, it relaxes me. I can forget about everything."

But sometimes work and the math involved come back to him while playing, and that's OK, too.

"That connection can help," he said. "If you're only focused on one thing, it's hard to make connections with other disciplines that might help you solve problems in your core area."

He came to engineering as a second choice – and, no, not behind music.

"When I was little, I wanted to be a chef," Pinier said. "My parents discouraged that. So I said, 'OK, I want to be an astronaut.' ''

He still does.

At 30, while still young in age and experience, Pinier – a licensed pilot -- already has applied for the astronaut program and welcomes a day when a project on which he has worked touches down on an asteroid or on Mars, perhaps with him aboard.

"It's super exciting to be involved in helping design the future launch vehicle," he said. "I'd love to go to space with NASA or with some company. I really want to make that happen."

Until then, thrills can come from sports. "Growing up in France as an American, I wanted to be different, so I played basketball instead of soccer," he said.

And growing up in the mountains, he embraces skiing and skating.

"At Syracuse, I started short-track speedskating," Pinier said. "It's probably the most thrilling sport I've ever done. You're always on edge. You can fall at any fraction of a second."

And for peace, there is always the music. Girlfriend Monica, an accomplished violinist, is learning the cello. Pinier is learning to stretch his skill at the piano through his improvisational work and by applying some of the things he has learned in math and engineering to the keyboard.

And vice versa.

Could Chopin have been an engineer?

"I think so," Pinier said. "He probably could have been a mathematician."

When he thinks about it, Pinier understands that the music he plays bears that theory out.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman