The schools and community of Longview, Washington have long supported the development of outstanding individuals whose contributions have enriched the city, state, nation, and world. We would like to take some time to highlight some of these notable individuals and the nurturing community from which they came. These bright spots in the Longview community exemplify the values that the Longview School District aims to instill in all of its students and serve as beacons of integrity, passion, and brilliance. Here, we introduce the next of our many notable Longview Luminaries, Donald B. Barker.
As a student in Longview Public Schools in the 1950s and ‘60s, Don Barker excelled in science. His projects won local science fairs and took him to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry for regional fairs, where they would win again.
One year, after a group of chemical engineers awarded him a prize at the OMSI show, Barker told them he wanted to become an aeronautical engineer. Then he received some life-changing advice.
“They said, ‘Don’t become an aeronautical engineer. Become a mechanical engineer, and you can study everything the aeronautical engineers do,’” he recalled. “A mechanical engineer can pass himself off to any discipline.’”
And that’s what Barker did. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, and a doctorate in engineering mechanics, Barker became a professor at University of Maryland, College Park. In addition to teaching, he worked on projects related to nuclear power, mining and drilling, space flight, avionics, cellular communication and more.
What is the common thread that strings these various projects together?
“I’m a failure analyst. Fracture mechanics—how cracks grow—is my area of expertise,” he explained. “The principles are the same”—whether considering how blasts crack rock or soldering breaks down on electronics circuit boards—“it’s just the scale you’re working on.”
One especially fruitful area of research for Barker his team of colleagues was electronics packaging. In the area of avionics, for example, many aircraft carried two sets of parts, because engineers didn’t know when they would fail. Barker’s group—with Barker focused on the effects of vibration and shock—helped determine how long parts would last and when they would reach their “end of life.”
With cell phones, the researchers found they could be dropped three times on concrete and possibly be fine, but drop it one more time, and it would fail. Of course there is a caveat: the gadget’s survival often depends on whether it lands on its corner, edge or on the top or bottom.
“Electrons don’t fail,” he explained, “it’s the circuit traces, the wiring that’s going to fail, so there won’t be a path for the electrons.”
At times his research group was working on projects for up to 30 corporations and government agencies. And over the course of his career, he produced a dozen books or book chapters, and collaborated on 61 papers in refereed journals and 116 other published papers.
After retiring in 2013, Don said he turned off his research efforts but stayed in Maryland.
“I fish, I kayak, I have a rowing shell, I do a lot of cycling, I race radio-controlled sailboats,” he said. “I have too many hobbies.”
Don Barker holds his paper airplane, which won the distance category in UCLA’s 1973 paper airplane contest.
Don Barker was a student at Kessler and Northlake elementary schools, Monticello Junior High and R.A. Long. Here are a few of his science projects:
- A visible wind tunnel: He built a wind tunnel into which he introduced smoke, so observers could see turbulence passing over sections of airfoil.
- A centrifuge: He built a centrifuge with 2Gs of force and grew beans in it. Compared with beans in a regular environment, the centrifuge beans couldn’t stand upright.
- A vortex: He built a tank so observers could view a vortex from the side.