Meet Dr. Chad McKee, Wake Physics class of 1987. After graduating, he earned a PhD from Duke University and entered a career of scientific work in the military. In this interview with Professor George Holzwarth, Dr. McKee discusses his career path and how his experience at Wake affected his life.
Prof. Holzwarth: We here in the physics department remember you fondly.
Please let us know where are you now and what are you doing?
Dr. McKee: Thank you, Prof Holzwarth. I have great memories of my time at Wake Forest and consider myself lucky to have attended. Currently, I am a physicist for the Department of the Army (civilian employee). I work at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where I work for an organization called Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND). We develop, test, procure, and field chemical, biological, and radiological detectors and protective equipment for the Department of Defense. My specific position focuses on radiation detectors, where I work with the soldiers in the field to determine what equipment they need and correlate that with industry to produce such equipment at a good value.
Prof. Holzwarth: You were in ROTC while here, so your current position is
certainly not surprising. What did your career path look like?
Dr. McKee: After leaving Wake, I was granted an education delay by the Army and attended graduate school, where I earned my PhD from Duke University. There, I investigated the creation, transportation, and measurement of relativistic electron beams for use in free-electron lasers (FELs). After graduating, I was commissioned in the Army as a captain, and was stationed at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine. My mission there was laser, RF, and radiation safety. The Army has a lot of lasers and RF equipment. It is important that the soldiers know the hazards and operate them in a safe manner. After spending 4 years on active duty, I went to work for Battelle Memorial Institute. At Battelle, I worked on a wide range of programs from determining the health effects of inhalation of depleted uranium to the installation of chemical, biological, and radiological sensor networks in Government buildings. Outside of Battelle, I also continued to serve the country in uniform, first in the Maryland National Guard and then in the Army Reserves. A couple years ago, I finally retired from the Army Reserves as a lieutenant colonel. I feel very fortunate that I have enjoyed each step on my career path.
Prof. Holzwarth: How did WFU physics help you get to where you are today?
Dr. McKee: WFU physics taught me how to tackle a problem and how to enjoy that process. My career path has not been a typical one for a physicist. I don’t get to do a lot of the physics that is taught in school – I’m not sure that have had to calculate the Gibbs free energy of a system since graduate school. But what I have had to do a lot is solve problems. Sometimes those problems are physics based, and sometimes they are not. WFU physics – and all the non-physics classes I also took at Wake – gave me the skill sets to focus on a problem, determine the root causes, investigate various options, and test the solution. WFU physics emphasizes not only problem solving, but also how to present that process and solutions to others so that they can understand it, and that’s just as, if not more important as the first part. WFU physics also taught me how to enjoy that process of problem solving, and one key to that was working with you in your lab while at Wake. Spending time in the lab, getting my hands “dirty”, gave me a sense of joy and fulfillment that simply sitting in a classroom could not. Luckily, I have been able to continue to find those throughout my career.
Prof. Holzwarth: How else did Wake impact your life?
Dr. McKee: Wake positively impacted my life in many ways. The absolute biggest is it is where I met my lovely wife, Dr. Lisa Speight. I greatly appreciate that you let her study in the lab while I was running our experiments. We have been married over 30 years and have two wonderful daughters.