- Number 343 |
- August 8, 2011
Argonne nuclear engineer offers pointers on style
Don't blame Dave Pointer for his hair. Credit his 5-year-old daughter and her love of summer music festivals.
"I took her to Lollapalooza last year, and she saw some guy with a mohawk and said, 'Daddy, you should cut your hair like that,'" he said. "So I did."
Pointer, a 35-year-old nuclear engineer at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, always stood out, even back in high school. A Knoxville, Tennessee native, he sought out the small but thriving counterculture movement that sprung up near the local university and considered a career in architecture or graphic design. He was a math whiz and a musician—Pointer can play the sax and French horn—who was divided as to which path to chose.
But that all changed when he sat in on a lecture about energy consumption just a few weeks into his undergraduate studies at the University of Tennessee.
"I started out at college as an undeclared, but I quickly found myself in the nuclear engineering program," Pointer said. "That's exactly where I belonged. What caught my attention was a talk about energy needs and what they were projected to be over the next 50 years."
He said it became clear to him early in his college experience that all forms of energy have an impact on the environment.
What's important, he said, is to select the least harmful path.
"I saw nuclear energy as the best way to get the energy we needed with minimal impact," Pointer said. "I knew that was it for me."
Pointer said his work in nuclear engineering allows him to use both the creative and mathematical sides of his brain.
"Nuclear engineering is not confining at all; you can move pretty easily from one area to another," he said. "I've worked on tractor trailer aerodynamics, engine design for heavy vehicles and on every type of nuclear reactor you could imagine."
Pointer's background is in fluid dynamics. He's currently the technical lead for the development of a software program that would allow researchers to design more efficient nuclear power plants.
"Part of the fun is that we get to work with the largest computers in the world," he said. "In the long term, we are going to make a big difference in the way energy is generated across the globe."
But no matter how devoted he is to his work, Pointer can't completely abandon his playful side.
His office is filled with tiny action figures including The Atom, Green Arrow and Iron Man. His hard drives are named after Batman villains—the Joker, the Penguin—and he wears comic book-themed T-shirts under his dress shirts. He entertains his colleagues with his skull and cross bone covered lanyard and his ever-changing hair color.
"I hope it says that I'm not a stereotypical engineer and that I like to have fun and that I'm interested in looking at things in new ways," he said. "I don't mind being outside of that box that we all put ourselves in."
But even Pointer knows when to tone it down; last year he shaved his head in anticipation of an important meeting.
Still, when he talks to kids—as he does often—he said the hair helps. "I do a lot of outreach with students in the area, and I find I get a much different reception when I show up with a purple Mohawk," he said. "They ask a lot more questions and are far more communicative. I'm not what they expected to see come through the door."
Submitted by DOE's Argonne National Laboratory