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Taking astrophysics to the streets

Dillon Brout
Dillon Brout, of Scarsdale, N.Y., is a double-degree junior studying physics at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and jazz saxophone at the Peabody Institute.

Dillon Brout loves sports car racing. So it felt like a dream when his cold-call email to a race team owner turned into a spring-break internship during the American Le Mans Series' first stop of the 2011 season.

After a few days with the Dyson Racing Team, the double-degree junior thought about his research with astrophysicist and recent Nobel Prize winner Adam Riess—analyzing light curves and photometric results from supernova stars in order to understand the universe's expansion. He applied the same concepts to race cars and the track—"very general skills that can be used for anything," Dillon says—and wrote a computer program that determined drivers' optimal laps. Using the same principles that calculate the velocity of a supernova, Dillon identified strategies and tactics that enabled drivers to take the circuit faster.

Dillon's work paid off. The team was winning, and it brought on Dillon to work with the engineers for the season. He spent the summer traveling to series races across the United States and in Canada, returning to Johns Hopkins in between trips to resume his work in the lab. He worked 16 hours a day on race weekends, but also found time for a rigorous saxophone practice schedule: in addition to studying physics at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Dillon is pursuing a bachelor's degree in jazz saxophone at The Peabody Institute. He plays in the Blue Jay pep band and is lead sax for the Johns Hopkins student band The Swami Jane Equation.

Dillon was especially determined to help the team win in Baltimore over Labor Day weekend. Before race day, he installed a camera on the front of his own car and drove the course through the city streets, then gave the footage to the team's drivers and engineers along with information about elevation, street conditions and temperatures to analyze. He also created another program that used data from previous races to improve pit strategy.

The Dyson team left Baltimore with a one-two finish in the American Le Mans Series race and went on to win the series championship in October. Dillon's work played a big role in that success, says Chris Dyson, a driver and team executive.

"He has quickly become a fixture in our team, and he's brought some amazingly clever methods to our engineering group," Dyson says. "I always kid him about how a racing weekend must feel to him like a real-life physics laboratory, but in hyper speed."

Read more about Dillon Brout and his work with the Dyson Racing Team on Rising

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