Physics is more than a vocation for Bill Blaylock – it's an avocation that helped spur the inspiration for an alumni fund.
His chosen field of study has also inspired dedication in UC alumnus Blaylock, a World War II veteran who earned his master's degree in physics in 1942.
More than 60 years after teaching at UC, the Las Vegas resident is the driving force behind a newly established Physics Alumni Fund. His gift to his alma mater, where he taught from 1946-'47, will provide support for the department and help meet its most pressing needs, from scholarships to equipment to research support.
His own education has always served him well.
"With all the travel and training I did, when I looked at a bridge I saw more than just an engineering feat," says Blaylock, who forged a long, successful career in operations analysis with the United States Air Force in Colorado Springs. "I could think about the forces and the other things that took place to make it happen."
Education is a treasured commodity in the Blaylock family. Blaylock's wife of 51 years, Lorraine, who died in 1995, was a graduate of Lake Erie College. In turn, the couple, whose marriage Blaylock calls "my most memorable and lasting milestone," sent all six of their children to college. Blaylock, whose own path to a doctorate was interrupted by the interest of Hamilton County Draft Board 13 and World War II, says with a laugh that he "bought six undergraduate and two master's degrees."
The UC Department of Physics fund is, in part, Blaylock's way to honor those who helped pave the way for his education. He hopes others will follow suit.
He was never, he said, able to find out the sponsor of a fellowship he received while at UC – but he always appreciated the help.
"During my tenure at Colorado Springs, I wanted to return the $300 stipend I'd received, and asked how much that was in current-day funds," said Blaylock, an assistant professor at Florida State from 1947 to 1951.
"It was about 30 times what I'd received, almost $9,000. So I sent them that … I felt obligated. Education, I've found, is very important in life."
The benefits of Blaylock's idea for an endowment cannot be overstated, says Joseph Scanio, Department of Physics head.
"The permanent income from the endowment will allow us to offer supplements to our regular graduate assistant stipends so that the whole package becomes financially attractive to our best applicants," he noted. "We will be able to compete successfully for the top students who now typically go to other institutions more for financial reasons than for physics reasons. We already offer our grad students excellent research opportunities and wonderful mentoring. The students are uniformly happy with their graduate experience here and with our ability to offer truly competitive stipends, our offers will be unbeatable and very much sought after by graduating seniors."
Blaylock, a self-proclaimed "quintessential 20th-century" man, may claim he doesn't belong in the 2000s, but don't believe him. A veteran of world travel, he's a voracious reader. He also enjoys films, from those made in pre-roaring '20s days to the 1970s, and heads to the library every Sunday to check out seven DVDs.
Just from his own experience, Blaylock is an incredible source for details on groundbreaking moments in physics and history. For example, he says the year he spent in England, studying and applying radar and information gathering experience with the Royal Artillery and Royal Air Force, was the foundation for his later success with the Air Force.
"I remember attending a seminar in 1939 – fission of the atom had only been done about a year before," he said. "I've had the advantage of visiting the German Museum in Munich, where the table on which this experiment was done is still in place."
Yet another true blast from the past: In the 1950s, Blaylock was invited to take a ride in an airplane as a Genie air-to-air missile was fired at 21,000 feet over Frenchman Flat, Nev. Six miles away from the blast, the view was still incredible.
"The sun was just coming up, and there was the most beautiful copper-colored smoke ring that you'll ever see," he said. "I always wanted to check with the Pentagon and see if there was a copy of that picture."