Sophomore Justin DeMattos is just another Pacific Lutheran University student.  He is a physics major and computer science minor, he works as a Clubs and Organization Intern on campus, he plays tennis for the PLU team, he’s a Star Trek fan… Oh, and he’s working for NASA this summer.

DeMattos will be working in a specific sector of the NASA program over the summer.  Accompanied by a mentor who is currently a software engineer at NASA, DeMattos’ main job will be programming for the Solar Probe Plus Mission.

The Solar Probe Plus is the first Mission to enter the sun’s atmosphere and ‘touch the sun’. DeMattos descibed his role in the mission by saying “We’ll basically be putting up data that’s going to be collected from instruments on the probe onto a website, and so our goal is to implement the code that then outs that data onto the site, while also figuring out a way to extract all the data from the instruments on the probe.”

DeMattos will be traveling to Johns Hopkins University over the summer to work on the various projects that his internship entails.

DeMattos knew that getting the NASA internship wasn’t going to be easy. “I applied for like 10 internships, and NASA originally wasn’t one of them, it was too much of a long shot,” he said.

He said that faculty support was one of the main reasons he was able to attain this internship in the first place.  DeMattos said, “If it weren’t for the support of my professors, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through the application.  I think one of them wrote me six different letters of recommendation before the process was done.”

While the faculty at PLU had a large impact on DeMattos’ application, none of it would have even happened were it not for a little help from his family.  “My mom really encouraged me to apply for NASA, I wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” said DeMattos.

The PLU Physics Department has had a spectacular year for connecting students to internships.  Two of DeMattos’ classmates have also received internships across the nation: junior Carly Stauffer will be interning at Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company, and junior Kimberly Belmes will be an intern for the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“While my internship is really cool, there are other students that are getting really cool internships, and it’s so exciting to see what everyone’s doing.” said DeMattos.

While the NASA internship shows him how to make a future out of his passion for astrophysics, DeMattos’ fascination with space is nothing new.

“When I was little, I went over to a friend’s house and we ended up getting bored one day and his dad said ‘Here’s an idea; let’s get out a telescope!’” he said.  DeMattos and his friend then went and pulled out his friend’s grandfather’s telescope, which was so large it came in multiple crates.

DeMattos describes this as a pivotal moment in his academic journey.  “I got to see Saturn for the first time, and that’s what really inspired me from that point on.  That was a real eye-opener for me, and it really got me thinking about all of the astrology and physics-related things that come from space.”

The Solar Probe Plus is set to launch in August 2018.  “I’m really excited to see how this can affect my future, and I can’t wait to work on this important of a project,” said DeMattos. ◼︎

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