For Maria Stone, the wall between art and science is naught. There is no boundary. To let her fingers play a familiar tune is to walk among the stars.

I met Maria and her husband James at an open mic event, where Maria played piano. Also true is that I met Maria in Grapevine, Texas at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Today, she is a young scientist, a graduate student in physics at San Jose State University. But the Bach and ragtime tunes she played for us at “open mic night” at the meeting were from her childhood. She grew up in Yerevan, Armenia.

How she learned to play is like 99% of us: she took piano lessons. But she grew up on the 5th floor of an apartment building. The west and east sides were open, and she viewed the risings and settings of the moon, sun, and planets with interest. The building was on the edge of town, and the skies were dark and often clear.

At night, in the dark, sometimes, she would play to the stars.

Like Pythagoras or Kepler or Einstein, she felt an innate connection between music and the physical universe. She continues to feel it, today.

From her east-facing kitchen window, where she slept, Maria noticed that the sun did not rise over the same bits of landscape every day. The location of the rising sun drifted with the seasons. She asked her high school teacher, Dr. Oskanyan, about it. He responded by starting an astronomy club. At first, the club contained only Dr. Oskanyan and Maria. Gradually membership grew, along with Maria’s understanding of the (simple, but only simple after you “get it”) geometry of the seasons.

This tiny fraction of Maria’s life journey from Yerevan, Armenia to San Jose, California is significant for its inspiration. From those humble seeds (a piano to play, stars to watch, and a mentor to open doors) grew the young physicist I met at open mic night at the astronomy conference.

At the start of her career and married to artist-programmer James Stone, it is impossible to predict to what starry heights Maria will reach. But my guess is that the trajectory of her career will be out of this world.

jamesmaria

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