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Monsieur Pineau, as I remember him

benzerga's picture

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Andre Pineau in Paris yesterday. I happened to be one of ~100 PhD students he graduated over the course of his career.

Andre Pineau was (and will remain) a central figure in France's materials science. His emphasis was in physical metallurgy and mechanics of materials. Nearly every single PhD thesis he advised was funded by industry, which even in France was unique. His motto was good science for the benefit of industry, here and now. For decades, he sat on several advisory boards of major companies in France (Snecma then Safran; EDF, GDF now GRTgas; Renault, PSA, etc.) and national labs such as ONERA and CEA. His former students set the agenda in many R&D divisions, most notable of which was Francois Mudry who was the scientific director of IRSID (then R&D center of Arcelor before it got taken up by Mittal). Sometime during the mid-2000s, he co-authored with Yves Brechet a document on the status of physical metallurgy in France directed at the French Academy of Sciences, in an attempt to revive a field that he has always seen as strategically important.

Andre Pineau was highly respected and admired in many circles, and I would say even feared. He had the presence of a Junkins with the vigor of a Lagoudas. He had strong opinions about many things scientific but would rarely speak of something he did not have (sufficient) knowledge about. He would rarely talk politics, whilst we (the students, technicians) would gather in the "bocal" for a coffee break twice a day and talk about everything in the world. Andre Pineau was a pragmatist, which in France is a "denree rare". At the same time, he was outspoken even in the presence of a top administrator (Jacques Levy at the time) he would speak out with vehemence and be heard! Nobody questioned his intentions ever! Every other professor in the center of materials was referred to by his first name, but he was always "Monsieur Pineau" for all. He maintained that distance by using the "vous" instead of the "tu" with nearly everyone. I only heard him use the "tu" with three people, one of whom being his wife!

Andre Pineau was so French and so American at the same time. So French as not to miss a chance to dig at the US in his own way. "I hope it is not American steel!" would he ask after a railway steel problem is reported to him. Or "This must be an American steel" if he did not understand what a fractograph shown by a student conveyed. But he was so American at the same time, especially in his work ethic. Only on Sunday afternoons was he off. Every Saturday and every Sunday morning he would be in the lab in Evry (the center of materials has been there for over 50 years, inside a site owned by SNECMA, now SAFRAN). I was there very rarely on weekends, but with enough students sampling his routine over the years, we pretty much knew the schedule of Monsieur Pineau. He would never meet with a student on a weekend, but if you were to show up on a Saturday, he would be happy like a child. I saw it in his eyes!

For the same reasons, he would not come to the US as often as one would expect of one of the most research active people in the field in France. I believe the last time he attended and gave a talk at a conference in the US was in Orlando in 1997 (save for the 2013 event in Boston; see below) for a symposium in honor of Franck McClintock of MIT. This is probably why the younger generation (in the US) does not know him well. But people from the US and elsewhere came to see him. For example, Subra Suresh was a good friend of his and spent at least one sabbatical in Paris. Another frequent visitor (during my tenure there) was Dany Rittel from the Technion.

Being associated with Andre Pineau came with its own "perks". A sabbatical with him also meant sharing (a few days in the week) his 2nd, most appealing, office in the "real" Ecole des Mines (not the center of materials in Evry) where he taught undergraduates (and where thesis defenses where held!) The building is the old hotel de Vendome (which I believe is partially classified by UNESCO as world heritage). Pineau's office was not far from the salle Vendome, overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens and the French Senate) where Subra Suresh has reported that he had met (serendipitously) a lady researcher from l'Institut Pasteur and that got Subra into the field of biomechanics at the turn of the century.

Andre Pineau despised "fashionable research". For him, industry defines what is "en vogue", and not academics who, by a phenomenon that seems inevitable in the US system, would "cluster" research agendas. Of course, Pineau's belief that industry drives the agenda was predicated on the premise that "industry" is that which he and his peers have shaped over the years! He was also very concerned about how to spend taxpayer money in research and would always work on getting the most output out of minimal expenditures.

Andre Pineau is one of only three Frenchmen (if I am not mistaken) who won the Acta Materialia Gold medal over the past 50 years. On that occasion, I co-organized a special MRS symposium in 2013 together with Dave McDowell, Esteban Busso and Thomas Pardoen. That was a memorable event and I was very happy to make him happy! The tradition is that the medalist writes a "Gold Medal" paper, but Andre Pineau invited us (the organizers) to join a bigger effort of writing a mega review on failure of metals and he charged me to spearhead the effort. Our submitted project was well received by the editors of Acta, but they thought that would be too broad. They welcomed us, however, to submit FOUR different overviews! And so, the nightmare became four nightmares; well, until we gave up on the fourth. Pineau put me in charge of Part I. I know I drove him crazy, because it took me nearly two years to finish my part! To my consolation and his, it was a major success and that overview may go down as his best cited paper ever, which is sufficient honor for me.

I differed with Monsieur Pineau on several occasions and do not share all of his views on science, research, etc. even if I find merits in his thoughts and views. I became his PhD student by accident, a story for another time. Of the 100+ students he advised, it would be safe to say that, when I joined his group, I was the most ignorant about all the things he cared about and wanted to see in a student! I knew next to nothing about either the mechanics or physics of plasticity, even less about phase diagrams or dislocations. I hated the materials science course I had in Toulouse and so, after two classes, I skipped the rest of the classes until the end of the semester (I managed to pass! It's never too late to make a confession!) What I enjoyed from my undergraduate years was mostly aerodynamics, control theory, a little bit of structures and a lot of math, physics and chemistry. In spite of the clashes we had during my thesis, not only was he supportive to the end but also helped me in whatever capacity made sense at the time to come to the US and embark on a new career (it would have been much easier for me to surf the wave of his fame in France and stay in my beloved city of Paris!)

At the end, I only remember Andre Pineau as a great mentor, a moving encyclopedia, and a true engineer in the heart! I am forever indebted to him for setting me on a career path. He introduced me, in person or through papers, to Mike Ashby (his hero), Jim Rice (my hero), Alan Needleman, John Hutchinson and Jean-Baptiste Leblond (to whom I feel much closer research wise) among others. He is now gone but his memory will live on.


Shailendra's picture

Dear Amine,

It is saddening to hear the passing of Professor Pineau. Your eulogy is inspiring. Thank you for sharing. 


Justin Dirrenberger's picture

Dear Amine,

Thank you for your moving message, I will share it with colleagues. I did not have the chance of being one of his PhD students, but I was lucky enough that he found some interest in my research during my time at Centre des Matériaux, so we had many discussions over the years. He was and will remain one of the most inspiring person I've met. May he rest in peace.

D.Rittel's picture

Amine, your words about Andre are very touching and so true. It is difficult to imagine the field of mechanical metallurgy after him. I was profoundly marked by our discussions, even if we did not always agree scientifically. I had always wanted to initiate something with him, but we were both busy and now it is too late. There's a lot I could say but I would only repeat your words. We have lost a giant. My condolences to Joelle and her family and may Andre finallyt rest in peace in the kingdom of phase diagrams. I am sure that in Heaven, he will convince the residents of the benefits of the local approach which he pioneered and cherished dearly.

Vladislav Yastrebov's picture

Thank you very much Amine for sharing this post about André Pineau!
It is a very sad event... but Professor Pineau continues to live in our memories and inspire us!
I've prepared a small photo album with photos of André Pineau that I have.

D.Rittel's picture

I mentioned Andre in my morning class of "Failure of Materials", when we wnt over some micromechanical fracture models. Speaking of him in the past was not easy. 

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