Why engineering? I grew up in Bellingham, Washington—born during a lightning storm, I’m told; I don’t recall it, myself. My parents were lawyers. My uncle was a contractor, so he built buildings. I had a lot of respect for him. Because of him, I started out as a civil engineering student. The first day of class my father died … I kind of blew off the first year and more or less flunked out of the freshman year at the University of Washington.
I went into the Navy during the Korean War and was sent to electronics school. I spent nine months of wonderful duty on Treasure Island in San Francisco and they taught me all about electronics. Then I wandered around the Western Pacific on an aircraft carrier for 14 months and loved it. When I got out I decided to go back to school and study electrical engineering.
On teaching: I love finding new ways to explain something. Discovering—seeking different ways to present something that I’ve maybe talked about for 40 years and all of a sudden found a new way to look at it—I get charged up.
On the future: The Teacher-Scholar model will persist. I’m intrigued by the STEM idea. I just don’t know where it’s going to go. But we are living in an increasingly complex world. The marriage of biology and engineering is going to get stronger and stronger. Those problems are going to be really difficult: biological, physical, electrical, ethical. They’re going to involve mechanics. The idea of convergence that we’ve talked about—that people with physics expertise and with chemistry expertise and with engineering expertise converge together to create teams that are effective in facing real, complex problems—that’s an exciting future.
Read the full interview with Healy.