Amy Johnson
757-864-7022 / 757-272-9859
RELEASE : 10-019
NASA Summer Student's Research Earns High Recognition
HAMPTON, Va. -- During a summer internship program at NASA's Langley Research Center, Alex Matus got more than just work experience -- he got an award.

Matus, who attends Texas A&M University, spent last summer as a Langley Aerospace Summer Research Scholar, where he worked with atmospheric scientist John Murray in the Science Directorate studying the impact of volcanic ash on aviation.

After a volcanic eruption in Alaska last year halted hundreds of flights, Matus decided to dedicate his summer to understanding how to better track volcanic ash in the future.

His research on "The Impacts on Air Traffic of Volcanic Ash from the 2009 Mt. Redoubt Eruption" provided invaluable results for the science community, earning Matus an award in the first American Meteorological Society Best Student Paper competition.

"I feel truly honored to receive this award," said Matus, who plans to pursue a doctoral degree in atmospheric sciences and hopes to eventually work at a national research institution such as NASA.

To understand the trajectory of ash after an explosion, Matus used datasets from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) and the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO).

After spending the summer fusing the two datasets, Matus found that the volcano erupted to over 60,000 feet in altitude, and the ash followed the prevailing winds. At lower altitudes, the ash went to the northeast toward Canada, and at high altitudes, the ash dispersed to the southeast toward Washington state.

In addition to demonstrating the benefits of combining two datasets, Matus also concluded that the flow of ash in two different directions created a challenging scenario for accurately assessing the risks of flying and safely managing aircraft traffic.

"In the future scientists will be able to use Matus' research to help improve techniques to detect and characterize volcanic ash," said Murray, Matus' mentor at NASA Langley. "In addition federal agencies such as the FAA will be able to use his research to issue better advisories and warnings."

For his research contributions, the AMS will present Matus with a certificate, monetary reward and notice of his selection for best student paper in the upcoming issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Matus, who is from Blue Bell, Pa., said the project was "fun and rewarding to work on over the past year."

"I would enjoy continuing similar research in the future," he added.

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