The Science of Deejaying

No one ever said deejaying was rocket science, but for Washington D.C., native Mark Branch, the two are more closely related than one would ever imagine.

By day, Branch works as an aerospace engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., supervising electromagnetic compatibility and susceptibility tests on instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope.

"What I specifically do is simulate the electromagnetic environment of space," he said. "It's very technical."

By night (and on weekends), he trades in his suit and pocket protector for two turntables and a microphone to become DJ Scientific -- one of the D.C. area's hottest deejays, spinning beats for members of both the NFL and the NBA, as well as celebrities like Beyonce, Diddy and LL Cool J.


While Branch, 39, admits that his dual interests are counterintuitive, he insists that his love for both space and hip-hop are linked by science.

"There's actually a science in deejaying," said Branch, who graduated from Morgan State University in Baltimore, where he enrolled in the NASA engineering program with a concentration in physics. "You can cut and scratch -- the sounds that you hear when somebody is cutting and scratching, if you slow it down, you can promote certain principles like pitch and frequency and force. And the speed at which you do this [cutting and scratching] produces a certain sound."

His passion for science and music began at an early age. An Army brat growing up in Greensboro, N.C., Branch's fascination with magnets and electricity got him thinking about science as an occupation. In high school, Branch was a member of the "High IQ" team and the National Honor Society, and he even played bass in the orchestra. He says he used music as a way to break free from the nerd stereotype and get in with the popular crowd.

For many of his NASA co-workers, it is difficult to picture "quiet" and "businesslike" Branch as the flamboyant, outspoken DJ Scientific. But despite this dichotomy, NASA has put Branch's dual interests to work, sending him out to speak to children, in particular African-American boys, about his love of rockets and rap beats.

"NASA got me to start talking to kids, mostly African-American youth, to get them more interested in the sciences," Branch said. "In the clubs, I play the music that they hear on the radio and they see on videos every single day. All of the sudden, I think a light goes off in their minds and I think they say 'Hold up. This guy is actually a rocket scientist, too? Tell us about that.' That's, to me, one of the powerful positive aspects that hip-hop can bring."

While Branch may see his loves of science and spinning as simply two facets of his personality, many others see them as a way of inspiring children and adults alike to follow their passions and dreams.

"When I'm here at work, people can't believe that I rock clubs across the nation," he said. "When I'm rocking clubs across the nation, they can't believe I'm a rocket scientist who works to send stuff into space. It's a beautiful thing."