After post-doctoral work in Saudi Arabia and research for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Rhode Island, Dr. Nathan Speirs has found his way back to Brigham Young University to teach fluids.
Long before the Bakersfield California native was researching fluids and working on torpedoes, Dr. Speirs was a chemical engineering undergraduate at BYU. After his first semester he set his sights on medicine. He left on his mission to Georgia thinking he was coming back to be a doctor, but an experience he had in the mission field changed that.
“I remember going to a doctor with my companion who had an ingrown toenail,” Dr. Speirs recalled. “Just watching the doctor chop off a chunk of his toenail and then burn a piece of his skin with acid made me think, well, what do doctors do on a daily basis? They take care of somebody's body. I really like the idea of being able to experiment, and I can't do that on somebody's body.”
That was when he decided that engineering was a better path for him—just not chemicals.
“That ability to experiment pushed me back towards the mechanical, because I always liked the idea of being able to innovate and create,” Dr. Speirs said. “To have a creative idea, go do an experiment on it, to see if it's useful.”
The internships he got during his undergrad were very influential in guiding Dr. Speirs toward his current field. An internship working on jet engines for Pratt and Whitney and another working on oil production helped him learn a lot—mostly about what he didn’t want to do.
“I found that it didn't allow me to do the kind of creative thinking that I wanted. With these companies I was designing components for a jet engine, which was good, I learned it just wasn't what I was interested in,” Dr. Speirs explained.
He learned that he liked to see the big picture, and that pushed him to get a PhD in mechanical engineering from Utah State University. After this reroute, he focused on studying interfacial fluid mechanics. As a visual learner, Dr. Speirs was drawn to working with fluids because it’s often studied with high-speed photography.
“Just being able to see what was happening and the way we take measurements from the images, it just worked for me,” Dr. Speirs said.
The purpose of all this research and studying was to prepare him for the eventual teaching position he hoped to have.
“I always wanted to be a professor in the long run and I knew that the job had multiple sides to it, so I wanted to get a little bit of experience beforehand. I tried to get myself as ready as I could for the various aspects,” Dr. Speirs said. “I knew I enjoyed teaching, but I didn't get a bunch of opportunities to teach before.”
The pursuit of these opportunities quickly became a family affair. He married his wife during his undergrad, and they had two kids by the time they left BYU, three by the time they got to Saudi Arabia, and then their fourth was born in Rhode Island while working form the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
When he’s not working on weapons and water, Dr. Speirs enjoys biking and rock climbing.
One of the biggest things that Speirs has learned being in the field of engineering is how to keep learning.
“In school we figure out how to learn, but that's hopefully what we're going to do for the rest of our career. There's no arriving to a place where you are just there and you just practice what you've done in the past,” Dr. Speirs said. “We always need to keep pushing to learn more, whether that's in school or work or religious studies, because that’s what we’re here for. Going through engineering has helped me see that in another way.”
Dr. Speirs is teaching measurements this fall semester and will teach fluids during Winter 2024.
Stop by his office hours to learn more about his research!