Matt Wood is a man of many talents. From playing the bass guitar, biking and woodworking, he finds joy in a wide range of activities. Recently, he fulfilled a lifelong dream and earned his Private Pilot License. Matt and his partner enjoy taking his 2-seater for sunset flights. When they long for the mountains, they hop in the plane and take a weekend trip! Matt grew up in Des Moines, IA, where education is paramount. He had several influential teachers on his academic journey and they helped to develop his love for astronomy. As a professor, Matt shares his knowledge and passion for astrophysics and astronomy with his students.
A Conversation with Dr. Matt Wood
What would you tell a student who is thinking about attending A&M-Commerce?
We’re known to be one of the most student-friendly departments on campus, and there is some stiff competition. We have a 400 square foot Peer Learning Lab that is informally known as the Student Lounge. We know a lot of our students commute, and this is their home away from home, complete with computers, desks, sofas, and kitchen facilities for those late-night study sessions. A big focus in our department in the past decade has been building community.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the personal interactions with students in and out of the classroom – seeing the students over their time with us as they grow from learning basic mechanics to mastering some fairly complicated quantum mechanics, for example, and the parallel growth in their own confidence in their abilities. Our department motto is: We don’t just study physics, we DO physics!”
What is a project that you are working on or have recently finished?
“Recently I’ve been working a lot with time-series photometry data from the NASA TESS and Kepler satellite missions. I study close binary star systems with orbital periods of 30 minutes to a few hours, and these missions return brightness measurements every minute or two for a span of months to years. Similar to how we can use seismology time-series measurements to study the interior structure of the Earth, we can use these time series measurements of stars to probe the structure and evolution of the stars themselves – a field known as Asteroseismology. We also have our own research-grade telescope just south of campus that is the largest in east Texas with a 27-inch aperture that our students use to collect data for analysis and publication. It’s a great way for students to get into research, since the telescope is 100% ours and available every clear night.”
What class have you taught that you enjoy better than others? What makes the material exciting?
“My favorite class to teach is undergraduate “Stars and Stellar Evolution”, although our own Dr. Williams has been teaching that in recent years. This is a course that ties together all the physics that students have learned, and applies it to understanding the structure and evolution of stars. From nuclear fusion and nucleosynthesis to atomic structure to fluid mechanics, stars do it all.”
Tell me a little about yourself.
“For many years, my primary hobby was playing music. I’m a bass player (progressive rock and jazz, preferably), but also play guitar reasonably well. I also enjoy woodworking and bicycling, but lately I fulfilled a lifelong dream and earned my Private Pilot License. I purchased the plane that our own Dr. Kent Montgomery built but wasn’t flying very much anymore. The paint job he did is just fantastic – I get compliments everywhere I go. The plane is a 2-seater, and my partner and I like to travel far and wide for sunset flights, to the proverbial $100 hamburger (or BBQ), to visiting friends in New Mexico or Colorado – our flight time is usually 1/3 the drive time, so that puts mountains in reach for a weekend trip. She’s also had the dream to learn to be a pilot, so it’s fun to learn together. The plane is aerobatic rated, so my next goal is to get comfortable doing loops and rolls – turning the plane upside down is a thrill, but something that needs to be done with preparation and study beforehand!”
- PhD, Astronomy, The University of Texas-Austin, 1990
- MS, Astronomy, The University of Texas-Austin, 1985
- BS, Physics, Iowa State University, 1983
- Regents Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Texas A&M University-Commerce, 2021-present
- Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Texas A&M University-Commerce, 2019-2021
- Vice Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, Texas A&M University-Commerce, 2017-2019
- Department Head and Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Texas A&M University-Commerce, 2012-2017
- Professor, Radboud University-Nijmegen, 2008-2009
- Professor, Florida Institute of Technology, 1991-2009
Honors and Rewards
- Outstanding Department Head, Texas A&M University-Commerce Faculty Senate, 2015
- Distinguished Principal Investigator for Excellence in Research, Texas A&M University-Commerce, 2014
- Stellar Astrophysics
- Astrophysical Hydrodynamics
- Cataclysmic Variable
- White Dwarf Stars
- American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT)
- American Astronomical Society (AAS)
- Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP)
- International Astronomical Union (IAU)
- Royal Astronomical Society