Moreau pursues parallel paths in music and physics

Honors College undergraduate wins Goldwater while also studying piano.

As a young scientist, Honors College and Lyman Briggs College physics junior Gabriel Moreau earned the Goldwater Scholarship. He's also a Music major and spends as much time as possible playing piano because, like science, it mixes rigor with creativity.

Gabriel Moreau dreams of performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. He also dreams of researching principles of plasma, condensed matter or nuclear physics.

For Moreau, both dreams are destined for distinct realities.

Moreau is an Honors College student who begins his junior year at Michigan State University where he majors in piano performance in the College of Music and in physics in Lyman Briggs College. He is also a 2018 recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship—an award established by Congress in 1986 to recognize high-achieving, high-potential student scholars committed to careers in science, mathematics or engineering. While he is currently exploring the structure of the universe through summer work at CERN—the European Organization for Nuclear Research—the international student will return to campus this fall to pursue his dual passions for the arts and science.

“I am very lucky that there are two fields in life that bring me great satisfaction and many long-term goals,” says Moreau, a native of France. “I did not want to have to choose between physics and music when I came to college, and Michigan State allowed me to follow my two passions by double majoring.”

Parallel paths, intersecting passions

Moreau grew up in Aix-en-Provence in France. His mother was a translator from California, and his French-born father was a human resource director for Coca-Cola who had studied bio-technology in college. While neither his mom nor dad were musicians, both had an appreciation and love for music.

His parents supported Moreau in his musical interests, securing private lessons in piano and education in piano and cello through his hometown conservatory. Physics, he says, came later when a high school teacher encouraged and inspired him to become a physicist and pursue academic research.

“I had the same piano teacher from age 7 to 17, and she made a big impact on my musical career,” says Moreau. “She was dedicated to her students and very supportive, but stern when she felt I hadn’t practiced enough—which happened a lot.”

Gabriel Moreau working in a CERN office, part of his life as a scientist. Note the Tchaikovsky book in the lower right. His passion for music is never far away.

Inspired by a high school science research project, Moreau took physics to the next level. The National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at MSU was holding a summer physics camp for high schoolers. He attended, met his future physics adviser Oscar Naviliat-Cuncic, and realized the opportunity to pursue parallel paths by applying to MSU as a double major.

“The College of Music has a history of attracting students who are not only in the Honors College but also demonstrate excellence in more than one field,” says Professor and Chair of the Piano Area Deborah Moriarty. “MSU gives these students the ability to double major—a win for the arts as well as a win for science. Gabriel Moreau is a perfect example of this kind of crossover excellence. It is very exciting for the College of Music to help him make his double dream come true.”

Moreau readily accepts the arduous demands of his chosen studies. He finds additional inspiration in physics icons like Albert Einstein and Max Planck who found beauty and complexity in the intersection of the scientific and musical worlds.

“Both music and physics require rigor of thought mixed with creativity,” he says. “Both are evidently an intellectual challenge on many levels. I usually try to finish all the homework that’s due soon, then spend the remainder of my time practicing. I do find myself wishing I had more time, but then, who doesn’t?”

Moreau’s musical studies are guided by Professor of Piano and Artist in Residence Panayis Lyras. Long-term, he aspires to apply his musical education through “extracurricular” performance, while pursuing a doctorate in nuclear or plasma physics, and conducting research in nuclear fusion energy or nuclear medicine.

“I’ve entertained the idea of performing on my own time, not for supporting myself but for the pleasure and thrill of sharing music and the work I poured into learning music with others,” he says. “I am also driven to get better, play more challenging pieces, and overall become a better pianist.”

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