Corey is an engineer who develops technologies to help people such as archaeologists, filmmakers, biologists, and citizen scientists explore the world in a new way. The technologies Corey develops include a robotic camera system that takes the world’s highest-resolution underwater images, a color night-vision camera that takes both video and photographs, a 3-D scanner that quickly makes 3-D digital captures of archaeological finds, and a new type of camera trap that instead of taking pictures of animals can scan them in 3-D.
Corey has been an explorer all his life. His grandparents’ yard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was the site of his earliest expeditions.
“Their yard . . . was a never-ending place of adventure and exploration,” Corey remembers. “[M]y little brother and I built forts, searched for bugs, and dug in the dirt looking for worms. More than a few times we even found animal footprints!”
Corey’s parents and grandparents encouraged him to explore the world, even if it took him a little off-course.
“The same grandparents also had some forested property, and one time they gave all of us kids compasses and walked us far out into the woods. I made it out OK, but was a few hundred feet off of where we were supposed to come out because I went to the left around every obstacle. All of those little jaunts to the left ended up putting me a bit off-course. I really respect map and compass skills now!”
Corey consistently pursued his fascination with science, technology, and the way things work. These interests led him to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he earned degrees in both physics and math. He then went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.
Still, Corey attributes some of his success to an early insight into what it means to be a scientist and engineer.
“When I was a kid and heard the word ‘scientist’ I learned that this was someone who tried to answer questions in order to better understand the world. This sounded like just about the coolest thing in the world! I was always full of questions—I think maybe I drove my mom a bit crazy—and never believed anything until I investigated it myself.”
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
“The most exciting thing about my work is being involved with researchers doing amazing things all around the world. I had the unique opportunities to stand alone in Tut’s tomb, cave dive in Mexico, descend 12,500 feet to the Titanic in a three-man sub, and suction-cup cameras on humpback whales in Alaska.
“The technologies I develop share the world from perspectives that make people think about some of the cultural, historical, or natural places that need to protection.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
“The hardest part of my work is solving difficult problems, often in the field with limited equipment. When something goes wrong with a piece of my equipment, there is no troubleshooting manual . . . I have to figure out what is wrong and fix it fast so that the researchers can get their job done. This has involved lots of sleepless nights and trips to hardware stores in foreign countries, but I almost always get it working again.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“To me geography is connectedness. Every feature of the land affects what lives there, how the local animals and plants have evolved, and even the weather. Nothing is unimportant; everything is connected as if the world is an immensely complicated dance with billions of dancers.”
The geographic perspective pervades all of Corey’s work.
“All of my work is focused on helping people see the world in a new light,” he says.
Technology, Corey says, is a vital part of modern geography and cartography. From 3-D scans of archaeological finds, to sophisticated cameras that bring remote underwater cave systems to light to night-vision cameras that monitor protected wildlife areas, technology can be an “ever-vigilant partner, watching the things that we can’t see.”
In addition to thinking geographically, Corey’s work takes him all over the world. He’s scanned the entirety of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt, with resolution high enough to read the hieroglyphics on the pharaoh’s sarcophagus. He’s taken the world’s highest-resolution underwater photograph—at Hoyo Negro cenote, on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. He’s developed a quirky “people-remover” imaging tool that allows sophisticated cameras to scan Colorado’s Rocky Mountains for photographs without pesky tourists or hikers.
Corey’s next geographic expedition may take him to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. He hopes his innovative color night-vision cameras can quietly capture the park’s lions hunting by moonlight.
SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . ENGINEER
Although math and science are essential, Corey says the most important aspect of engineering is one developed outside the classroom.
“The best engineers I ever met aren’t necessarily experts at math or one particular science. They instead have a broad understanding of all of the different areas so that they can think beyond one narrow focus and solve problems creatively.”
“The biggest part of being a good engineer is to ask lots of questions," Corey continues. "If people didn’t try to think of new ways of doing things, there would be no cell phones, televisions, or even light bulbs! There are no ‘stupid’ questions since every question asked increases your knowledge.”
Corey is enthusiastic about the fact that engineering—solving problems creatively—is an incredibly broad field. Even his own work, developing tools for disciplines from archaeology to zoology, is just a glimpse into what engineers can do.
“There are lots of different types of engineering: electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical, aerospace, software, and many more. Electrical is the best, though!
“I am kidding, but that’s what I went to school for!”
“Go out into the woods, wetlands, or a field just to take pictures. You don’t need a fancy camera; anything that can take pictures will work. If you walk slowly outside with the goal of taking pictures, it is amazing how many cool things you see! I have spent many hours doing this and it never gets boring. If you need ideas, try taking pictures of bugs and then looking them up on the Internet for identification at home. See how many different types of birds you can photograph. Keep a record book with what you saw and notes and you will soon have an impressive list of creatures you have photographed.”