What do you do in your job?
I model radiation, which includes everything from natural sources of radiation to weapons effects. Natural sources include such oddities as the Van Allen Belts which surround our planet to radioactive materials such as uranium, plutonium, etc. I model how the radiation behaves, how you shield against it, how your electronics or optics will be affected, and how you design your equipment to work with it.
How did you get interested in this vocation?
I was, sadly enough, born an engineer. My dad was a rocket scientist, though they called it “aeronautical engineering” when he did it, not “aerospace,” and he worked on some interesting projects when I was growing up. I first heard the word “magnetohydrodynamics” when I was 14, when I was 18 it was “rail guns,” and when I was 20 it was sounding rockets out at Wallops Island. When I was 21, I started working in experimental thermal hydraulics and plasma engineering for myself. A few years later I was at NCSU in the nuclear engineering college - building rail guns, plasma accelerators and, well, testing the toys. A few years later, a NASA contractor picked me up right out of college to keep working on spacecraft, plasma, and radiation.
Have you been to Dragon*Con before, and what will you be doing this year as an official guest?
I have been to Dragon*Con most years since 1997. I teach and entertain people, try to get them interested in science. A lot of the audience is kids, from pre-teen to college age. Getting them excited about science is my goal. For everyone else, well, I hope you leave my panels with some information and a lot of entertainment. I think my only serious, official, Dragon*Con class is the Van Allen Belts, Friday at 2:30 p.m. I will have a somewhat crazy panel, “Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow, whether you like it or not” Saturday afternoon. I think I am also on a panel about beer on Saturday night, and I would do a class about radiation or string theory if they let me. I think my “Hanging about and arguing with other scientists” qualifies as local color for the space and science tracks.
Do you have a message about your vocation that you can sum up in a sentence?
You don’t have to be some kind of genius to be a scientist or engineer. You just have to love solving problems and be willing to work hard. I am clearly a freakin’ idiot (as shown by my inability to note that the question asked for one sentence) and I have had the opportunity to do fantastic things.
Is there an aspect of genre fandom or Dragon*Con events that appeals to you from outside your field?
Absolutely. I am very much into history, fantasy, games, and writing. I couldn’t pick one, though probably strategy games got me into Dragon*Con the first time, but frankly it is the people who keep me coming back. Dragon*Con is full of fantastic people. I often spend whole days in one of the lounges, just hanging out and talking.
What’s your website?
My website is madsci.us
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