The Imagineer

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Spotlight on Hidden Physicists

The Imagineer

Joel Peavy, Principal R&D Imagineer, Walt Disney Imagineering, Research & Development, Inc.


Joel Peavy, Principal R&D Imagineer, Walt Disney Imagineering, Research & Development, Inc. Sigma Pi Sigma University of Redlands Chapter, Class of 1995

The Imagineer. Photo courtesy of Joel Peavy.“I want to be an electrical-mechanical-chemical scientist!” That was the answer I gave to my fifth-grade teacher when she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Come junior high school, I quickly learned that physics, the foundational science upon which nearly all other of the hard sciences are built, was the passion I had been trying to articulate in my answer to that elementary-school question.

Electrical engineering was another obvious passion; I taught myself electronics starting in sixth grade. But in high school I was never 100 percent content just knowing “how” something worked. I wanted to know “why”! The physicist inside me wouldn’t give up.

In high school I won a grant from the National Science Foundation to build a pulsed-nitrogen laser and perform experiments with it at the University of Redlands in California. I measured the energy transfer between the fluorescent molecules coronene and rhodamine 6G. After that, it was an easy decision to pursue my undergraduate degree in physics and math at the University of Redlands.
I was a part of research projects every summer through college, mainly projects in nuclear physics involving reaction cross-section studies. I traveled to the cyclotrons at the University of California, Davis, and Uppsala University in Sweden to gather data. I then completed my MS in electrical engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

After working for five years at General Atomics’ DIII-D Nuclear Physics Research Facility in San Diego and nine years at Delta Design designing robots for the semiconductor industry, I wanted to find a way to marry my passions for both science and art.

That’s when, out of the blue, Disney Imagineering Research and Development found my resume. The company ultimately offered me a job as a Principal R&D Imagineer at the Walt Disney Imagineering headquarters in Glendale, California.

There are few, if any, places better in the world for marrying science and art together. Since I was a child it had always been a dream of mine to be a part of this exclusive group and make wonderful things that bring people joy.

Although most of what I design now is secret and must be kept confidential until the projects hit the public eye, I can say that designing things that haven’t been done before, or even thought of before, all begins with physics.

In this work environment it’s not uncommon to hear “You’re up against physics on this one,” or “We’ve run out of physics!” That’s when using physics in creative ways comes heavily into play. It’s amazing to see an effect come to life based on putting a few key principles of physics together to create a bigger whole.

Now, many years into my career, I’m blessed to work with some of the best scientists, engineers, and artists the world has to offer. And it all started with my love of physics.

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