Our blog and Radio Show feature the life and work of David J. Piatak, NASA Engineer, Rocket Scientist and musician.Many of the world’s scientists, engineers, medical doctors, mathematicians, researchers, teachers, chemists, physicists, writers, and others have studied and played musical instruments since they were children. These eminent individuals have integrated music into their thinking process. Also included is an article on how studying a musical instrument for long periods makes you smarter.
Radio Feature Question for March 2023: How does Classical Music play a part of David J. Piatak’s life as a NASA Engineer, Rocket Scientist, and musician and which musical instrument does he play?
David “Dave” Piatak’s Growing Up Years:
Dr. Madeline Frank: “Where were you born and raised?”
Mr. Piatak: “I was born in Carbondale, PA which is a small former coal and railroad town Northeast of Scranton, PA. Grew up in the small hamlet of Richmondale/Forest City. My graduating class size at Carbondale Area High School was around 90, so a far cry from the size of my children’s school here in Williamsburg, VA.”
Dr. Frank: “Do your parents and other family members play a musical instrument?”
Mr. Piatak: “I’m the only person in my family that is musical. My mom and dad were very encouraging of my interest in music and made sure guitar lessons were available to me. My mom taught kindergarten and gifted at local elementary school. My dad taught PE and health at my high school and was my basketball coach at times as well as my tennis coach throughout high school.
Dr. Frank: “When did you begin studying the guitar and begin singing? Did you take private lessons?”
Mr. Piatak: “I began taking private guitar lessons when I was 10 or 11 in late elementary school and continued with the same music teacher for many years. Her name is Mary Ferraro and lessons in her home in Forest City, Pa. I did my best to prepare for each lesson and loved to play. Also helped teach me time management skills and balance between school, basketball team, tennis team, hobbies, and friends. I always sang for myself in past and it’s only in last 10 years that I really began singing in public at open mics and then local bands. I’m self taught with respect to singing. But if it’s in the key of Eddie Vedder, I can usually handle it well. Ha.”
Dr. Frank: “Did you play in the school band in high school?”
Mr. Piatak: “During high school, I would often play in the Spring concerts as the ‘guitar for hire’ and also played in a couple of ‘battle of the bands’. My 1988 MIJ surf green Strat followed me everywhere during college years and into my career. I would play occasionally and considered myself very good, but I never had time or passion in those years to find other musical people. I was so busy with aerospace engineering at Penn State and then my career at NASA. Add to that then marriage, three kids, houses, cars, and such…and I had little time left for me. It took divorce to trigger me to really reinvent myself and I set a goal of playing/singing at local open mic at Aroma’s coffee shop here in Williamsburg. This was around Summer 2014. I played Green Eyes by Coldplay, Rocketman by Elton John in style of Jason Mraz, and likely a Jack Johnson song at my first open mic and I was hooked. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging. From there I found other music friends and they asked me to play bass in their local cover band with some originals. I learned to play bass and their setlist in a couple weeks and we were ready. They were all teachers or school administrators and the first gig we played was at local elementary school fall festival. The PTA lady gave us all $50 for playing and suddenly I was a paid musician….as a hobby. Band is called Hangar 09. After a while as I continued to do open mics also on guitar, I was hosting open mic at the NASA bar at Langley Research Center (yes, we have a bar!) and met my best friend James, and then Frank, and then April. We’ve been playing off and on ever since then…around 2018 or so. We’ve played at many many NASA events such as the 50th anniversary for Apollo 11 here at NASA Langley. James, Frank, and I have also been playing as a trio at local bar open mic jam in Phoebus, VA. Fun stuff.”
Dr. Frank: “When did you become interested in mathematics and science?”
Mr. Piatak: “From as early as I can remember perhaps. My mom brought home so much science material from school and I would just eat it up. They would take my brother Brian and I on vacations that would always include museums, science centers, airshows, music, or history locales. I became so interested in and passionate about space, spacecraft design, and aircraft design. I built my own model rockets and airplanes from kits and sometimes designed my own. Flew them from local ball fields and one time had to chase my model rocket across town to find it on a too-windy day. Voraciously read books about all my heroes: test pilots, pilots, astronauts, and the engineers/scientists/technicians that built/designed these marvels of flight. I knew at age 13 or so that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer or pilot. My eyes were too bad to flight any military aircraft. I decided to focus on designing and testing aircraft and rockets and such. I’ve been turned down several times to be an astronaut. Those people are super-human, though, and amazing humans.
Dr. Frank: “What was your favorite subject in high school and did you have a favorite teacher who inspired you?”
Mr. Piatak: “I’d have to say any science class. Particularly physics or general sciences. I wasn’t a fan of chemistry. Math just came easy to me and I wasn’t really enamored by it until engineering classes and learned how a second order differential equation could describe the vibration of a beam or the flow of electricity in a circuit. Math is humanities way of ‘spherical-izing’ the world around us by simplifying physical principals down to fundamental mathematical principals….often involving calculus, vector calculus, differential equations and more. Today we use some of the worlds most powerful computers to solve the most complex aerodynamic flow problems which help us safely design our aerospace vehicles….running equations that have their roots in our rudimentary math classes.”
“I’ve had so many teachers and mentors that have helped me in my path. One that stands out is Mr. Carl Urbas who was my science teacher in 10th grade. He was a fun guy and took care to get to know his students and find their positives. He recommended me for a student leadership conference and it kinda changed my outlook which at the time was a little gloomy and unsure at moments. I’m still in touch with him and his family….they were also close friends of my parents. Saw him at his grandon’s (and my newphew’s) basketball game over the holidays.”
Dr. Frank: “Did studying the guitar help you to be a better student in school?”
Mr. Piatak: “Definitely agree on music’s ability to foster learning and more. As I mentioned earlier, all of my hobbies and activities have taught me discipline, patience, and time management skills. There is clearly a connection with math and music. The rigor and careful derivation of math equations and principals have parallels in music theory and structure. The physics of ‘air vibration’…..sound! The complex electronics present in today’s guitar effects and electronica. Sound/audio and electrical engineering is rooted in underlying physical principals that are modelled by high level mathematics. Much of my work on rockets involved supersonic aerodynamic noise/acoustics and unsteady aerodynamics and high speed data acquisition systems to measure these phenomena. Both music as we know it today and rocket science is built upon math, physics, and engineering.”
Dr. Frank: “Did you receive good grades in elementary, middle school, and high school?”
Mr. Piatak: “Yes, I was a nerd. I was pretty much a straight A student through high school and college and grad school. I was a teacher’s kid, but I just like pleasing also…and the gratification of doing a good job. Doing my best….”
Dr. Frank: “Where did you attend college and what was your major and did you continue to play your guitar?”
Mr. Piatak: “I have BS/MS degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State University and Old Dominion University. I didn’t have time really for bands or formal music playing events in college or the first half of my parenting years. I grew up with a giant wooden record player with lots of Beatles and other early 60s rock. My dad’s taste in music kinda stopped in the early 60s. He exposed me to a lot of classical music also and we have gone to many philharmonic symphony concerts.”
Dr. Frank: “When did you begin working at NASA and are there any interesting projects you would like to share with our audience?
Mr. Piatak: “I began my work with NASA in the Fall of 1992 as an engineering cooperative education intern. I would alternate semesters of work and school between NASA and PSU. I started working in the Flight Research Branch at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton,VA and I was a kid in a candy store. I “had” a hangar full of aircraft and they let me help them prepare for flight tests and wind tunnel testing. From there I worked in Subsonic Aerodynamics and worked a cool wind tunnel test. My next assignment was with the Aeroelasticity Branch at the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel and I’ve actually been there ever since. I have 30 years with NASA and have worked everything from the V-22 Osprey, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Space Shuttle, Mars Exploration Rover parachute testing, to now the Artemis program to return humans to the moon….and to stay this time. If you google my name plus NASA you’ll find lots of papers and such regarding my work and my team’s work. I lead the Buffet Test and Analysis Team for the Space Launch System program (SLS) and team with amazing friends around the country at Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Ames Research Center in California, and Johnson Space Center in Houston. SLS is the huge rocket that launch our Orion spacecraft to the moon on November 16, 2022. First test flight of a human-rated rocket and spacecraft capable of sending crew to the moon since….Apollo 4 and 6 in 1967/68. My team and I were there at Kennedy and had a front row seat so to speak. We were in a back room supporting GO/NO-GO decisions on day of launch. It was exciting and a privilege to be a part of something that is so rare. Something that is only once in a couple of generations….at least as we know it now. We will going forward, see amazing feats of spaceflight and exploration. We are living in a spaceflight revolution, akin to what my parents grew up with and witnessed. Only this time, we are going farther and will stay and explore more. Moon, Mars, Europa, ???” My team is very busy with Artemis I flight data analysis to ensure it’s safe to fly crew in 2024 and also our work on the Mars Ascent Vehicle that will launch Perseverance’s soil samples off the surface of Mars to Earth. Fun stuff”
Dr. Frank: “Thank you, Mr. David Piatak for sharing your fascinating work as a NASA Engineer, Rocket Scientist, and musician. You are an inspiration to all of us with your awe-inspiring work.”
“Musicians Are Probably Smarter than The Rest of Us” (Dec. 6, 2017) FYI Living
“Want to keep your mind healthy and sharp throughout your life? Pick up an instrument. A new study found that musicians might have brains that function better than their peers well into old age.”
“The Secret of Teaching Science & Math Through Music” by Madeline Frank, Ph.D. is available in book form, and newly updated as an e-book on Kindle, Nook, or iBook:
“Musical Notes On Math” by Dr. Madeline Frank teaches your child fractions and decimals, the fun easy way, through the rhythm of music, Winner of the Parent To Parent Adding Wisdom Award is available in book form, newly updated as an e-book on Kindle, Nook, or iBook.:
“Madeline’s Midnight Melodies- Music From around the World”. This CD complements her books with a blend of dance music, gigues, tangos, ballet and favorites including “Danny Boy”, Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro”, Debussy’s “Claire De Lune” and others. “Madeline’s Midnight Melodies” CD is now available for purchase by downloading a song, downloading the album click below:
Wishing you and your family a happy Saint Patrick’s Day from Your Non-Invasive Medicine Music Expert, Madeline
For over 30 years, Dr. Madeline Frank has helped children and adults overcome problems through Classical music. Madeline Frank, Ph.D., DTM is an award-winning teacher, an amazon.com best-selling author, researcher, speaker, conductor, and concert artist. She has discovered a scientific link between studying a musical instrument and academic and societal success. Madeline Frank earned her Bachelor and Master’s degree from the Juilliard School of Music. Her education has included scholarships at the Juilliard School, Indiana University, and the University of Cincinnati and she has a violin performance diploma from the North Carolina School of the Arts. (C) 2023 Madeline Frank.