Featured Alum: David McKenzie, 1989 Physics alum

I graduated from CBU (then CBC) in 1989 with a B.S. in Physics. I started college with an EE major, but the physics labs were so much like a ‘magic store’ that I was soon captivated and changed my major. True, there were only a handful of physics majors at the time; but the small classes and focused attention of the faculty are qualities of my CBU experience that I wouldn’t trade. After CBU, I attended graduate school at the University of Delaware in the Joint Program of the Department of Physics & Astronomy and the Bartol Research Institute. There I received my M.S. for research on flare stars using the local observatory; and I received my Ph.D. for research on the solar corona using an X-ray telescope on the Yohkoh solar-observing satellite. I got totally hooked on operating telescopes and making observations, an interest that started while I was a student at CBU, and which placed me in a perfect position for my current work. And also at UDel, I met my wonderful wife, Wendy.

I was hired right out of grad school to do Education & Public Outreach, and mission operations, for the Yohkoh satellite mission. That brought me to Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. After ten years at MSU, I’m now an Assistant Research Professor of Physics. My specialties are solar physics, solar observations, solar flares, and magnetic reconnection. I advise undergraduate and graduate students on research projects about the Sun, and I oversee a team of grad students, postdocs, and research scientists responsible for operating telescopes on two satellites: NASA’s TRACE mission, and the Japan/US/UK Hinode mission. For the Yohkoh mission, and for the Hinode mission, being involved in operations means that sometimes a person has to travel to Japan for several weeks. Darn the luck. All in all, I’ve spent about 20 months in Japan, feasting on the history, culture, food, sightseeing, and international camaraderie. And in California, DC, Hawaii, Norway, and Scotland.

This is a super-snazzy image of a solar eruption. It was taken by the TRACE satellite, and shows solar plasma with temperatures near 1.25 million degrees C.

Bragging a little? You bet! I couldn’t be happier: we’re doing cutting-edge astrophysics as an integral part of the scientific community. But more than that, I have the opportunity to help the next generation of scientists, by being involved in the training of graduate students and undergrad researchers and giving them hands-on experience with the instruments and the data. Along the way, I constantly remember my time at CBU, and strive to give my students the same ‘magic store’ experience I had.