ALBANY — Astronaut-to-be John Brooks, a student researcher at Columbia University, is enjoying an experience of a lifetime. The fifth-generation Albany native is studying nuclear fusion at the New York university.
“I feel somewhat privileged because it is a very noble effort,” Brooks said. “If we can figure out nuclear fusion, then it is truly a fix for the world’s energy crisis. (Nuclear fusion) is a very big and important problem, yet it is not an easy problem. The joke in the field is that we’ll get it 20 years away.”
Brooks was first inspired by propulsion when going to “rocket day” in the fourth grade at Deerfield-Windsor School. That inspiration grew whenwhen Brooks’ dad, Woodrow Brooks, introduced him to a close friend who could explain his inquiry about torque.
“It is like one of those things that you are interested in and you kind of follow it your entire life,” John Brooks said. “The more you learn, the more you realize what it is that you want and it inspires you.”
Brooks graduated from Deerfield in 2003 and earned his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 2008 at Georgia Tech. While at Tech, he educated himself on the Japanese language.
In Brooks’ downtime, he said he likes to travel to places like Japan, Italy, France, Hawaii, Nepal, Peru and Iceland. He said he enjoys snowboarding, skiing, camping, hunting, ham radio, and board games in his free time as well.
The 34-year-old also studied at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and received his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering/propulsion. In December, Brooks plans to secure a Ph.D. in plasma physics and nuclear fusion at Columbia.
Brooks is working with a tokamak (thermonuclear fusion power) machine at Columbia in hopes of containing its energy, and to slowly disperse the high intensified energy a moment at a time.
“If you can be successful in storing energy and let it out a little at a time, then we don’t need oil or coal,” Woodrow Brooks said. “The interesting part of (John Brooks) going to Columbia is that he had gone to a conference in San Diego and met people from Princeton University and that tokamak was broken. (Princeton) arranged for John to come down, find out what they were doing, and bring it back up to Colombia’s tokamaks.”
At Princeton University, two of their research scientist mentored Brooks on nuclear fusion. Woodrow Brooks said that his son had an astounding time studying and researching fusion reactions.
“It’s very rewarding to have people above you that take a strong interest in your professional development and also treat you as an equal,” the younger Brooks said. “I can only hope to one day pass my knowledge and enthusiasm on to those working with me in the way my mentors have done for me.”
Because of his hard work and dedication, Brooks has landed an internship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., starting June 18.
Of all his accomplishments, Brooks said his favorite to date is marrying his wife, Anna Sophia Gayek.
“Getting married is having a companion on whom you can always rely and who also encourages you to be a better person along the way,” he said. “It’s a very powerful experience.”
Woodrow Brooks said that watching his son evolve to make his own mark on the world is a gratifying experience.
“(John is) like my best friend, and I like to watch him run,” the elder Brooks said.
“I like to watch him live; and find out what’s next? I have a road map of the United States right next to my chair. On there I have marked everywhere (John) has been. I guess I am living my old life through him. He is a good kid, too.”