Alumni Q&A: Blake Barnett

March 8, 2018

What made you choose Johns Hopkins?

To be honest, I initially chose to attend Johns Hopkins largely on strength of reputation, and the fact that it was outside of my hometown (where my only other offer came through). What makes me keep coming back as an alum is the tight-knit community in the Materials Science department, where I truly feel that the faculty and staff have become lifelong mentors, colleagues, and friends.

Were you involved in any research in the department?

I worked in Dr. Erlebacher’s laboratory as a lab technician as a sophomore and junior, and worked with him as a researcher for my Senior Design project, as well. Although that project didn’t produce any notable technical results, it was a great opportunity to learn laboratory skills and get a better understanding of how research depends as much on persistence as it does ingenuity.

Do you have any memories that stand out from the classroom or lab?

Aside from the various pieces of lab equipment that I broke, as all undergrads seem to do, I really had a great time in the Materials Science Lab classes. Getting to apply what we learned in class and see how materials responded and changed in real time brought the subject matter to life in a way that I still get excited about.

More generally: how did you get interested in materials science and engineering?

As a kid I was a bit of a science news junkie, always trying to find the newest, coolest technologies that were coming down the pipeline. Over time I saw that all of what I considered to be the most impressive new technologies were enabled by new materials: Hydrogen powered cars need fuel cell catalysts and storage tanks, high-resolution displays used new LED materials and faster computer chips, and so on. The potential for new materials to revolutionize how we design and build new technologies was too appealing for me to want to do anything else.

How has life been after graduation?

Life is good! I was fortunate enough to get a job in materials science locally, and still enjoy living in Baltimore. Especially now that I have the opportunity to explore the city beyond the area right around the Homewood campus.

Where are you working now? Is it related to what you were involved in during your time at Hopkins?

I work at the US Army Research Laboratory at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, with a focus on Materials and Manufacturing Science. It’s certainly well aligned with the materials program, though my specific research is a little bit different. My work now has a lot more to do with powder metals and additive manufacturing than anything I did at Hopkins.

Do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and materials scientists?

First is to be willing to do the work and dig past the surface to find the second- and third-level answers to your questions. Don’t be content with the first answer you get (within reason) when it comes to technical or even office/administrative challenges. If you push through you may get the result you were looking for, or at least have a strong justification for where you stopped. Second is to focus on communicating well. If you can tell a compelling story about your work, and connect with your audience by speaking to their interests, you’ll increase your chance of success whether you’re giving a funding proposal, an idea for a new technical approach, or recruiting new clients. It’s a skill that I’ve seen even successful engineers struggle with, and can really set
you apart.

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