Alumnus Matthew Boucher ’04 has long balanced interests in music and science, a background that is helping him at his new job at NASA. As an undergrad student at UNI, he double-majored in both music and physics. Boucher says that his interest in both subjects was encouraged by all of his professors. “Having the support to follow my passions in different areas validated my curiosity and made it okay to try new things that might be outside my comfort zone,” Boucher said.
After UNI, he went to Indiana University Bloomington and received his Master of Music in Tuba Performance, which he’s been playing since he started on the baritone tuba in fourth grade. That degree led him to work as a craftsman of musical instruments at S.E. Shires, Co., where his tasks included building custom parts for trombones. “Solving some of those unique technical problems helped me learn how to come up with creative solutions, a skill that I applied to my research,” said Boucher.
With a desire to go back to school and study acoustical engineering, Boucher found a program that fit his needs overseas. He traveled to France to the University of Le Mans to earn his Master of Science degree in Acoustics Research. While there, he assisted with research on acoustic waveguides (a structure that guides sound waves), investigating techniques to predict and calculate their internal geometry and acoustic resistance. As a trombone can be considered a waveguide, Boucher was again combining elements of music with his passion for science.
After spending two years in France, he received a Marie Curie fellowship to do acoustics research at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. His work there involved the study of acoustics in smaller interior rooms and whether methods used in predicting the acoustics of larger spaces can be applied to areas like offices and classrooms. At the completion of his studies, he earned his doctorate in Noise and Vibration.
Now, Boucher is putting all of his previous research to work as a Research Aerospace Technologist (AST) in Flight Vehicle Acoustics at NASA.
His main task at NASA is to better understand how we process and perceive sounds by doing laboratory listening tests. One of his team’s goals is to determine annoyance levels that can help regulators set reasonable certification standards for flight vehicles. “It is really exciting to be working at NASA Langley Research Center, which is actually the birthplace of NASA over 100 years ago. It is amazing to be surrounded by pieces of history, but the coolest part is working with caring people who just happen to be really intelligent,” Boucher said.
While his most recent endeavors have been leaning more in the scientific realm, music is always a part of his life, too. He played in musical groups in both France and Belgium, but is taking a short break as his tubas are still making it through customs. He hopes to find a group to play with in Virginia when he’s reunited with his instruments.