Gilles Messier can now be called a rocket scientist, having written his last exam on April 26 to complete Carleton University’s aerospace engineering program.
And if you’ve ever wondered what kind of historical fiction a rocket scientist would write, Messier has filled that void.
Messier says his book Our Own Devices, published in late 2012, is a collection of nine standalone stories inspired by historical anecdotes from the 1940-60s that he found interesting.
His characters wrestle with ethical quandaries around such events as the Manhattan Project and human experimentation done by the Nazis. And though fictional, the history is important to Messier’s analytical mind.
"I’m one of those people who nitpicks movies and books when they don’t get some scientific or historical detail right," he said.
Growing up in St. James, Messier said he’s always had an active imagination.
"As a child I would sketch things in mid-air and people couldn’t see what I was doing. My kindergarten teacher thought it was weird."
His father, an exploratory geologist, nurtured his son’s talents.
"We’d go out and hunt for fossils in southern Manitoba. I call him my Igor…always, whenever I wanted to try anything, to build, he was always there. That’s how we bonded," Messier recalled.
They did many experiments together, in and out of the house, and sometimes they blew up.
His experiments for school science fairs were always "advanced projects," he said.
At Grant Park High School, where he attended from Grade 7 through to graduation, he created a cloud chamber to visualize tracks made by sub-atomic particles at age 15. Last summer, the 23-year-old built a Tesla coil with his dad.
Messier says there’s a stereotype that engineers can’t write.
"I can tell you, that’s not just a stereotype, it’s true," he said.
In his case, however, that mould broke. He has been the editor of the engineering newspaper at Carleton, and says he has always written stories since a young age.
And he paints.
"I’m one of those extreme artsy engineers… All my hobbies tend to bleed into one another."
After graduation, Messier says he will hang out with an engineering society he’s forming for the summer, and build some rockets.
Beyond that he’s confident he’ll find work someplace. For now, he’s just glad to be finishing school.
"It’s been a long time coming," he said.
To find Messier’s book online, Google Our Own Devices along with his name.