Blake McCracken: Explosive Research
September 28, 2012
A senior physics major from San Angelo, McCracken spent the last two summers doing research at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in California. With the encouragement of his professors and funding help from the Alvin and Patricia New Honors Program Enhancement Fund, McCracken used some family ties to help figure out where he wanted to intern.
“I’ve always been interested in weapons development and defense programs,” he said. “I have an uncle who was in the Navy, and he told me that China Lake does missile testing, so I Googled ‘China Lake Internships’ and one link came up, so I applied for it and got in.”
During his first internship in 2011, McCracken worked with electronic circuits used to test and evaluate explosive behavior. He was basically testing how fast a detonation event occurs.
“The guy I worked with is an electronics nut,” McCracken said. “He basically gave me some circuits and said, ‘Put these together and we’ll go test them.’ He was hoping they would work for a project he had, and luckily they did. That first time around, I pretty much did circuitry work.”
“I spoke to some people in the ASU Physics Department, and they said their program would give me a better background and more options for a career. So I decided to stay here and join the program.”
For his second internship this year, McCracken was given his own project to work on by his supervisor, Tom Schilling.
“They had me work with a really fast camera,” McCracken said. “It can take 100 million pictures a second. They need that speed because explosive events happen so fast that a normal camera can’t pick them up. No one else had been using that camera, and it was important for my boss to learn how to use it because he wants to use it for his projects. So, he put me on that and said, ‘Learn it and then show me how to use it.’”
But, McCracken’s summer was not all about work. He was in California, after all.
“There was a lake nearby, and we went out there camping a few times,” he said. “We also went to San Diego and did some surfing. I had never been surfing before, so getting to do that was really neat.”
Not a bad way to spend the summer for a guy who initially did not even plan to come to ASU.
“I was going to enter the engineering program at Texas A&M,” McCracken said. “But, then I learned that ASU has a really strong physics program. I spoke to some people in the Physics Department, and they said their program would give me a better background and more options for a career. So I decided to stay here and join the program.”
And join it he certainly has. This summer, McCracken was one of only three recipients nationally of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) Outstanding Leadership Scholarship. He is a member of the Sigma Pi Sigma physics honor society, president of the ASU chapter of the SPS and a member of the SPS Peer Pressure Team that conducts physics demonstrations for elementary and junior high students throughout the region every summer. He also participates in local physics outreach efforts at Alta Loma Elementary School, and in national efforts through the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).
Outside of physics, McCracken holds a Carr Academic Scholarship and is a member of the Alpha Chi national honor society and Pi Mu Epsilon mathematics honor society. All his activities do not leave much spare time, so when he does get some, he mainly likes to spend it outside.
“When I have a chance, I like to go hunting,” McCracken said. “My friends and I, and my family, we like to go shooting at the gun range, too. I also like to play some video games and go to the movies, but I just don’t have a lot of time for that stuff.”
After he graduates from ASU in May of 2013, McCracken hopes to get a research assistantship and attend the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif., with an eye toward eventually working at a national research lab.
“I’m not sure yet if I want to enter a master’s program or a Ph.D. program,” McCracken said. “But, along with all the other physics courses you take there, they also have Navy application courses, and those will be fun to take.”
“I don’t know if China Lake is where I’m going to end up,” he added. “I think that it would be a good place for me to go, and there are other national labs that I’m looking at. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”