Sunday, April 21, 2019

Graduate Profile: Zachary Houtman


There was recently a milestone announcement in the science community: the first picture of a black hole. The achievement is more than just another news story for Zachary Houtman- it is inspiration. He is feeding his love of science by pursuing a career in engineering or physics.

“If I could see humanity expand from Earth in my lifetime that would be great to see,” he said.

And Zachary doesn’t want to be on the sidelines of space exploration- he intends to be part of the scientific process that takes humans to the far reaches of our solar system. To do that, the Middle College High School student will need a top-notch education. His acceptance and full-ride scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is just the latest step for him. RPI is one of the top science research universities in the nation.

“I spend a lot of my free time looking at topics like relativity,” he said. “I’d like to be a researcher at NASA. There’s one topic I’m really interested in right now called the Alcubierre Drive.” He’s speaking about an idea in theoretical physics that is based on the equations of Albert Einstein in general relativity. It speculates that humans could achieve faster-than-light travel by creating a spacecraft that could contract space in front of it and expand space behind it.

“You create a gravitational anomaly,” he said. The sparkle in his eyes when discussing the idea gives you just a hint of how much he enjoys science. He was able to explore more of math and science through the Sumner County Middle College High School program. He transferred from Portland High School after his junior year.

“The biggest thing with Middle College was the opportunities. I’ve taken nine math classes in my high school career. Being in an environment where everyone is motivated to do better is refreshing.”

Zachary will graduate with his high school diploma and an associate degree in May, a unique opportunity for students in Middle College. He plans an advanced education after completing his bachelor’s degree at RPI, perhaps even a PhD. He is already considering thesis topics.

“If I had to choose my thesis right now it would be relativity. The large scale of the universe is amazing.”

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