Spotlight: Students

Daniel Brandt


Dan Brandt says his passion for science really took off in middle school when he got “hooked” on hobby rocketry. “I saw a Space Shuttle launch on television and it was game over.”

Hailing from the suburbs of Ellicott City, MD., Dan completed his bachelor's degree in Physics at Case Western Reserve University. He came to Michigan in 2016, and earned his MS in Atmospheric and Space Sciences in 2018. He’s currently a doctoral student in the department, working toward a PhD in Atmospheric and Space Sciences. Despite his time in the Midwest, Dan says he’s still very much and East-Coaster at heart, “especially when it comes to my love for seafood.”

He says he chose Climate & Space because it was a good fit for his academic background and future plans. “My experience as a physics undergraduate lent me a suite of statistical and experimental methods, programming skills, and a solid theoretical foundation in the relevant principles for conducting research.” But he says his personality is more attuned to the pace of innovation in a field like Space Science, as opposed to a pure physics career. He was also impressed by the Climate & Space department’s prominent national role in space research. “The sheer number of available projects here made the decision an easy one.”

Dan is currently researching how the density of the Earth's thermosphere (the neutral atmosphere above ~100 km) experiences density fluctuations due to geomagnetic storms. The idea is to use this data to calibrate models of atmospheric density in order to make accurate predictions of satellite trajectories. He says he was inspired to this area of research due to it being at the crossroads of both engineering and science, reflecting the Climate & Space department’s unique discipline-bridging environment. “This work also affords me career latitude,” he says. In straddling the worlds of science and engineering, he can choose to apply his work and the skills to a variety of career paths. “This opens up opportunities in the categories of science, industry, and national defense all at once.”

When asked what his future plans might be, Dan lays it all out: “Right now, the plan is to apply to the United States Navy Officer Candidate School to commission as a naval officer that will be sent to flight school in Pensacola, FL.” His aim is to become a carrier-qualified naval aviator before eventually applying to either TOPGUN or US Navy Test Pilot School, with the eventual goal of applying to the NASA Astronaut Corps. “I wasn't kidding when I said it was "game over" after watching the Shuttle launch as a child.”

If all of that weren’t enough, he’s both a musician and a composer. “My chief instrument is the trumpet, even though I started out as a saxophonist way back in the 3rd grade. My involvement in the Campus Symphony Orchestra has allowed me to continue performing, and I hope this can be the case so long as I am physically able to do so. I'm also currently writing a science fiction novel as a fun little side project.”

Dan says his favorite memory of Climate & Space so far was being accepted as a PhD candidate. “There is a warm, persistent feeling of knowing I've ‘earned my place’ in the department. It is extremely humbling, and as such, makes it all the clearer the responsibility every scientist has for prudence and objectivity when conducting research.”