Kacey Meaker ’08, a sixth year doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, teaches physics undergraduate Mandy Huo how to use an atomic force microscope.
Every week, Kacey Meaker ’08 heads through the security checkpoint at San Quentin State Prison. She leaves her cell phone behind, but hauls in tennis balls, electric circuit kits, or math books.
Kacey Meaker ’08 demonstrates the use of a Van de Graaf generator during the 2013 Randolph College Science Festival.
As she conducts math and physics lessons with the inmates, she almost forgets where she is. “I can’t really forget because they’re wearing prison clothes, and guards are walking around, but I don’t feel like I’m teaching in prison,” she said. “They’re very interesting people. They want to learn, and they want to get an education.”
Kacey, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Berkeley, volunteers in a program that helps inmates earn associates degrees. “It gives them hope that, when they get out, they can make a difference and live better than they did before,” she said.
It provides her a sense of satisfaction: helping others learn about science—regardless of where they are—is natural for Kacey. At Randolph, she helped start Science Day, which has morphed into the annual four-day Science Festival. As a senior, she led the construction of a human-sized hamster wheel to teach about electricity.
“College was a very empowering experience,” Kacey said. “I knew that if I wanted to do something, I could make it happen.”
Even before college, Kacey exhibited talent in the sciences, especially physics. She was on the U.S. Physics Team, a group of the best high school physics students in the country. Once she began studying at Randolph, she developed an interest in research.
“Kacey is the ideal science student that is interested in everything she learns,” said physics professor Peter Sheldon.
She shares that passion each summer when she works with high school students who learn about research at Berkeley. She also returns to Randolph to help students continue the physics of roller coaster research she began as a
student with Sheldon.
Kacey Meaker ’08 and Catherine Khoo ’11 work with model rockets during the 2013 Randolph College Science Festival.
Tim Slesinger ’14 has worked with Kacey for two summers on roller coaster research, in which they are using smartphones and other devices with accelerometers to map the physics of the ride. Last year, they also renovated the hamster wheel that Kacey helped build during her senior year.
Tim said working with Kacey has taught him not only about science and research but also about determination and problem solving. “She won’t take no for an answer,” he said. “She knows there’s always more than one way to accomplish things. It’s just a matter of finding the best way.”
Kacey’s doctoral research has focused on graphene, a material that could revolutionize solar cells and computer chips if its properties can be harnessed and controlled.
“The work she is doing is cutting-edge,” Peter said. “Her research has the potential to make an impact in the future of technology.”
The possibilities of the graphene research make Kacey bubble with excitement. She said there is a remote possibility that it could result in the discovery of a room-temperature superconductor, a breakthrough that has eluded scientists for decades. Although the path to such a discovery is unclear, she recalls the response she gives to students who say they don’t know how to do something.
“I tell them I don’t know how to do it either,” she said. “If I knew how to
do it, it wouldn’t be research.”