‘Sailing’ for the stars

By on July 3, 2018

Thanks to ongoing research by Lititz native Matt Sailer, one day interplanetary travel could be completely possible…and safe.

Growing up, Sailer would attend Veritas Academy in nearby Leola, graduating in 2014. He then attended Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, graduating with high honors and earning a bachelors of science degree in engineering physics along the way. While in college, he also served as a midshipman in naval ROTC for all four years; and earned a commission as a naval officer.

“I really liked ships growing up, even though I didn’t live around any,” he joked.

But as it turns out, this interest would be enough to motivate him to join the Navy. At the end of this month, he’ll be heading to flight school in Pensacola, Florida to begin his training in a career as a naval aviator.

“I didn’t want to go to flight school until junior year of college,” he admits. “I was dead set on being a surface warfare officer, but I later saw it as a cool opportunity, and I had the grades for it, so I said why not?”

This, coupled with an early interest in physics, led him to where he is today.

During his senior year in college, he began a physics project on radiation shielding for space ships for his school’s honors scholars program. Radiation shielding is essential for the future of space travel, as it is full of extremely energetic and deadly radiation. It’s an ongoing problem that has been studied for the past 60 years. So far in history, no proposed shielding methods have come close to stopping this radiation.

But if Sailer has his way, that all could change one day.

“I knew I wanted to do a physics project my senior year, so for a few weeks, I worked with a professor mentor, and I bounced some ideas off her,” he says. “I originally wanted to do something with relativity, but my school didn’t have much equipment. Radiation shielding seemed like a more manageable topic, so I went with that.”

“In short, I was researching the best way to protect astronauts from radiation. “We ended up developing a configuration of magnetic fields that have shown very promising results in our simulations.”


This past March, Lititz native Matt Sailer was part of a team that presented on improved methods of radiation shielding for space ships.

When asked, Sailer points back to one “a-ha” moment that paved the way to what might be the next big breakthrough in space travel.

“A major part of physics research is reading hundreds of articles to see what has been done so far,” he says. “After learning a lot of different methods, I eventually realized that you can combine at least three of the most promising to create a much more effective method while still being lightweight.”

Earlier this year, Sailer was part of a team that presented research at the American Physical Society March Meeting in Los Angeles. They also wrote an article which is currently being published in the Journal of Undergraduate Research in Physics. Currently, they are in the process of penning a final paper showing their full results from the simulations.

From there, the sky’s the limit.

So what’s “in the stars” for what is no doubt a very bright future for this young man?

After his service in the military, he’s hoping to earn a PhD in physics and continue his research.Who knows? perhaps one day they may even name a new planet after him.

“The hope is that NASA will be able to benefit from our research, and incorporate our shielding method (or a variation of it) to make interplanetary travel completely possible and safe,” he says.
When asked, this young man with a bright future encourages others to ‘shoot for the stars” when deciding what career path to choose.

“I think the best way to describe how I got to where I am is taking every opportunity that I thought would help me in the long run.”

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com 

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