Where Robotics and Chemistry Come Together For One Oregon Local

Some people love chemistry because it's the science of change. It's really beautiful to watch something turn into something else, right before your eyes.

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ecently we managed to contact and interview an Oregon resident with a very unique story. It’s really amazing to see where science and engineering can get people, no matter their interests. Walter Hendricks* now works in the US Army doing an exciting job.

How It Started

Walter grew up in Philomath, Oregon and moved to Beaverton after high school. He considers the valley his home, and loves the environment and the people.

But what he really loves is chemistry and technology. He says his interests really started blossoming when, at a young age, he played with a Dr. Dreadful chemistry cooking set…

[It] started with a lot of interesting “sciency” stuff to me, but ended with a large amount of disgusting sugar blobs. It crushed what little desire I was developing for cooking at that time since I was making the realization that cooking is a form of chemistry (for a few years at least) and threw my hard chemistry lust into an overdrive. It’s scared me away from eating most things sugary to this day.

With candy-phobia and an interest in science, he started realizing he was a little different than some other kids: “I was the weird kid that would do math problems for fun. A+B=C always intrigued me.

The TALON is one tool the US Army uses to disarm bombs. EOD technicians use robotics skills, combined with knowledge of chemistry, to make shrewd decisions about how to dispose of dangerous explosives.

Chemistry, Robotics and High School

Actually, mathematics and chemistry are very closely related. Chemistry consists of a lot of math-like equations for chemical reactions, and Walter knew this. He said, “it reminded me of a simple machine, and then I took that thought to the next level when I was old enough to play with fireworks. A+B=boom.

Walter’s interest in explosive chemistry was an unsafe one, but luckily he found an outlet for his interests in high school. Philmoath HS was doing research and development in the biodiesel industry, where he focused his chemistry interests.

But like many people our age, he had a great interest in robotics, too. For that, he joined FIRST Robotics in 2003, being a part of PHS’s Team PHRED (called Team 847 when he joined) and working both as a competitor and mentor until 2008.

EDIT: Here's an image of Walter with his former team, at the 2013 regional tournament.

In The Army

While maybe not for everyone, Walter enjoys his unique and highly-skilled job.

Once he got out of high school, he had a realization: “Everyone has that dream job and place they want to work. Work towards it, and never give up,” he says. And Walter knew what he had to do.

Combining his passions for robotics and chemistry, he joined the US Army and is now working as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician. It’s an exciting and dangerous line of work, where he uses his expertise in explosive chemical engineering and his mastery of robotics to disable explosives all around the world, and protect important people from danger.

I wouldn’t say science and technology skills are sneaking into my life, but more of hitting me in my face. I’ve had to do pressure calculations off the top of my head just to make sure no one would get hurt. Not something I expected to use from high-school. . .  I know a few people who would of listened more in math if they knew it would of helped them with taxes, saving money, or disarming a bomb.

Walter, when he's on leave from the army, loves playing Diablo 3 and other computer games.

Walter’s unique and risky line of work might not suit everyone, but it definitely shows that no matter how different your interests are, the world of engineering has a job for you. He has a few words of advice for everyone: “Settling for what you have can be be great for now, but sitting in one area gets too comfortable, and it’s the complacency that ends dreams.

Don’t be complacent. Find what you love, like Walter did, and do everything you can to pursue it.

*Walter Hendricks is a pseudonym; as his work is often classified, he asked that we don’t use his real name.

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