Pluto Scientist Is a Brookdale Grad

first_imgMatt Hill’s journey and passion have taken him from Monmouth County and Brookdale Community College to now studying the outer reaches of our solar system.Hill, 44, works as an experimental space scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and much to his joy is working on the New Horizons NASA program, studying particles from distant Pluto’s atmosphere.“This is really cool and it’s something I’ve always been interested in,” Hill said this week.New Horizons is a project that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began in 2000, launching the interplanetary space probe in 2006. The space probe has been taking photographs and atmospheric specimens to gain a better understanding of Pluto and its moons.On July 14 the New Horizons spacecraft became the first such voyage to travel to that very far-reaching dwarf planet.Pluto is approximately 4.67 billion miles from Earth.Hill works as a co-investigator and lead instrument scientist for the New Horizons project, responsible for the Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation, or PEPSSI for short. That device, “measures radiation high energy particles coming from Pluto.”What is so exciting about this, the data obtained along with the photos will “allow us to discover what we haven’t been able to study before,” Hill said.“We have the capability to study the distant parts of the solar system,” he went on, “and I think it’s valuable to do so, as much as we can,” as research can reveal who knows what, as well as the possible benefits of the practical application that can be the byproduct of these projects.Growing up in Eatontown, Hill was always fascinated by space and its exploration. “When I was younger I use always watch the Carl Sagan (the late astronomer, astrophysicist, author and TV host) stuff, read the books,” and was really interested in the NASA Voyager program. “I was excited about that.”Back then, however, the thought of earning a Ph.D. in physics must have been seen as distant a possibility as traveling to Pluto. “I did rather poorly in high school,” Hill acknowledged, though he managed to graduate Red Bank Catholic High School in 1989.After high school he took a couple of years off and eventually began attending Brookdale Community College, Lincroft.Hill majored in math and science at Brookdale, where he earned his associate’s degree. And it was there that the spark seemed to be lit showing him what he loved could actually lead to a satisfying career.“We are fortunate to have, where I grew up, a place like Brookdale,” he noted, “to help me find my way.”From Brookdale, Hill went on to attend and earn his bachelor’s degree in physics from Rutgers University. But it was while he was in graduate school at the University of Maryland he was approached by a professor and asked to help analyze data from the Voyager project. “I did and I liked it,” he remembered.“When I realized I was back in space stuff I realized this was the stuff I was interested in when I was a kid,” he recalled. After that, “It all kind of fell into place.”Hill received his Ph.D. in 2001 and has been working at the Johns Hopkins lab for the last 10 years, mostly on NASA-related projects.And this work has his passion in full flame, allowing him, “to dig in on the edges of what we know and to come up with something new that becomes something that everyone will one day understand,” he explained. “That is pretty neat.”– By John Burtonlast_img