Having been raised in a household that had a working typewriter to now owning a Macbook and a custom-built desktop computer that runs Linux Ubuntu, Casey Mackin has lived to see tremendous technology acceleration in the world of computers.
Witnessing such technological expansion has helped shape Mackin's deep interest in computer technology and his intention to help advance the field while also informing aerospace technology.
"The impact computers have had on our lives has been tremendous. It's amazing to see how much the world has changed just in my lifetime because of computers," said Mackin, a University of Arizona electrical and computer engineering senior and undergraduate researcher working on a National Science Foundation-funded project.
"There was the industrial revolution, then there were computers," said Mackin, also an Honors College student, who recalls learning from computer-based games like Reader Rabbit as a child, and also having a dot matrix printer.
"Computers have changed everything – how we learn, how we travel, how airplanes work, how we communicate. Now, innovation is very important," Mackin said. In fact, he is working with UA researchers advacing computer technology. "It is important to continue finding ways to improve computers because it leads to advancements in other research, technology and everyday life."
For his achievements and promise, Mackin has earned a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that promotes the retention of college students in the science and technology fields.
Former Skylab astronaut and U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame member Ed Gibson will present Mackin with his scholarship during a public event on Sept. 12 from noon to 2 p.m. in Room S202 of the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Building, 1130 N. Mountain Ave. The UA event is free and open to the public.
During the presentation, Gibson will talk about his 84-day orbit of Earth as part of the Skylab 4 mission, for which he served as science pilot in 1973 and 1974. It was the third and final manned flight to the Skylab space station, according to a release issued by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Previously, Gibson was the senior research scientist who worked with the Applied Research Laboratories of Philco Corporation prior to being chosen by NASA in 1965 to serve as a scientist-astronaut.
“Casey has demonstrated quality leadership in electrical and computer engineering at University of Arizona," Gibson said in a prepared statement. “He embodies the top characteristics of an Astronaut Scholar: intelligent, perseverant and driven to lead the path toward the advancement of scientific knowledge and technology. I’m proud to have the opportunity to present this award to such a worthy recipient at the UA.”
The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has provided nearly $3.5 million in funding to students across the nation, and past and current astronauts have joined the foundation to support its efforts. Just more than 300 scholars have been named in the history of the foundation. The first UA student to receive the scholarship was UA Honors College student Cameron Upchurch, a molecular and cellular biology who received the designation during 2011-12.
"I think our expectation should be that we win every year," said Jeff Goldberg, the UA's College of Engineering dean. To compete, participating universities nominate two students, submitting their names to the national foundation, which then makes its selection based on merit and each student's contribution to the STEM fields, as well as their promise for continuing to make contributions.
"To even win the university-wide contest is pretty spectacular," said Goldberg, also a board member for the Challenger Space Center in Peoria, Ariz. "As far as the students from engineering and science, we have a very strong group of students in both areas."
Growing up, Mackin was that neighborhood kid who was fond of dismantling computers and working to rebuild them. He would ask his parents and neighbors if he could tinker with their computers, finding the process of building to be fascinating.
Mackin, who was born in Germany and attended high school in Sierra Vista, Ariz., said that while he had dreams of becoming an astronaut as a child, he now prefers a different path, one that co-exists with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's mission.
"It's exciting, and the scholarship is definitely providing an opportunity that I hope will expose me to a lot more," Mackin said. "It definitely fits with the research that I am working on."
At the UA, Mackin became involved in the Summer Research Institute and began working with Roman Lysecky, a UA associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Embedded Systems Design Laboratory. Today, Mackin continues his work with Lysecky and Jonathan Sprinkle, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, on the Data Adaptable Reconfigurable Embedded Systems, or DARES, project.
In Lysecky's lab, Mackin is working to develop new computing methods that serve to improve computing performance and efficiency.
"I like the idea of building things and being able to create your own ideas and seeing whether they work," said Mackin, whose mother is a nurse and whose father retired from service in telecommunications with the U.S. Army.
Also, Mackin spent the summer of 2012 at Duke University where, under a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, he conducted research on improving Web server speeds and also reducing power consumption.
Mackin intends to pursue a doctorate after graduating from the UA next year. In fact his brother, Charles Mackin, is a UA alumnus who earned a degree in electrical engineering and now is studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For Casey Mackin, graduate studies and continued involvement in research are hugely important and, for him, provide the necessary avenue to begin making major contributions to the field.
"What I find interesting is a new idea," Mackin said, "and the big thing for me is being able to have the freedom to realize my own ideas."