Joshua Van Hook

A portrait photograph of Joshua Van Hook outside the front entrance of MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
I enjoy the mix of being hands on with day-to-day operations and of thinking longer term and helping communicate to sponsors what we are doing and why.

When were you first introduced to the Laboratory?

In the early 1990s, I attended one of the Laboratory's first Kids Day events with my father, who retired in 2022 after 28 years at the Laboratory. I began participating in the summer student program in 2006, modeling and simulating airborne tactical networks, and ended up coming back multiple years thereafter. I was drawn to communications and networks early on, partly due to my father’s work in the field but mostly due to my interest in making systems work together. My summer internship experience made it clear that I wanted to work here. While I was in grad school, I continued to explore modeling and simulation at the Laboratory, in support of my thesis. That opportunity led to a full-time position in 2012.

What does your research focus on?

Broadly speaking, my research focuses on communications and networks. Initially, I performed modeling and simulation of the U.S. Army's Warfighter Information Network – Tactical, or WIN-T. After conducting various short-term studies for the Army, DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], and other sponsors, I became the principal investigator on what was originally a communications feasibility study and is now quite an expansive prototyping effort. We are building around 60 antennas, defining a communications architecture, deploying a satellite ground station, and characterizing new waveforms. For this effort, I run a team whose activities include software development, hardware development and prototyping, architecture design, system integration, and flight testing.

What is a typical day at the Laboratory like for you?

Right now, it's a pretty wild ride, sometimes literally. We are performing flight tests as part of a risk reduction for a series of large field experiments scheduled in 2024. Not only do I define the experiments and put the right people in place but I also help execute the experiments. Yes, that means jumping in the back of a DHC-6 Twin Otter and operating equipment. Of course, my job also entails ordinary tasks like making presentation slides, attending meetings, and traveling.

I enjoy the mix of being hands on with day-to-day operations and of thinking longer term and helping communicate to sponsors what we are doing and why. My team is reducing risk and demonstrating capabilities for the immediate needs of the sponsor while making sure the path for future programs is well defined and planned. I like (and sometimes loathe) juggling the duality of prototyping a system for a demo in a year versus setting a path for the next decade.

Where are you from?

I'm a local. I grew up in Framingham and currently live in Marlborough. My wife's family is also local, so we have deep roots here. My wife and I and our three children — a 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old boy and girl twins — like the area.

I've done a bit of traveling for work and visited many parts of this country, but I still enjoy coming back to the New England weather, the ease of seeing landscapes from oceans to mountains in a day, and the overall strong-willed nature of this area. We enjoy the museums, parks, farms, and kid-friendly things our city and larger area has to offer while embracing the fast-paced, opinionated, and sometimes admittedly abrasive culture. Being an engineer has taught me to fight for what I know is correct, admit when I'm wrong, and meet in the middle if someone has a better answer. I think New England, Massachusetts, and the greater Boston area welcome this dynamic.