AIAA Member Spotlight – September 2012
AIAA Congratulates Dr. Christopher Mattson
By: Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
The AIAA Member Spotlight for September 2012 shines on Dr. Christopher Mattson, AIAA Senior Member, and associate professor, mechanical engineering, Brigham Young University (BYU), Provo, Utah, and a recent recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Mattson was nominated for the award by the National Science Foundation in recognition of his “innovative research to enable product design for sustainable poverty alleviation, and for dedication towards establishing third-world outreach and learning experiences for engineering students.” His research work is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.
The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers is the highest honor that the U.S. government bestows on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. They were established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Honorees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and for their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.
Mattson, the co-director of BYU’s Mechanical Engineering Capstone program, is a member of AIAA’s Multidisciplinary Design Optimization Technical Committee, and was the technical program chair of the 2012 AIAA/ISSMO Multidisciplinary Analysis and Optimization Conference.
When asked what inspired Mattson to enter the engineering profession, he went back to childhood and said that a big influence on the decision was his “natural curiosity about how things worked.” Once in the profession, curiosity combined with creativity and the realization that as an engineer he could “create new products and systems.” The combination of curiosity and creativity combined to ignite a passion for engineering and engineering analysis within Mattson. Like so many others in the AIAA Spotlight, Mattson also cited a person who inspired him to pursue success in engineering, as he continued: “One of my earliest colleagues was Peter Skillman, a mechanical engineer (currently a Vice President at Nokia). In him I saw strong analytical abilities and an infectious appreciation for the creative elements of engineering. When up against problems, as we so often are during product development activities, Peter could very quickly get to the root of the problems and create and prove solutions to fix those problems. I knew, after seeing Peter solve tough problems in elegant ways that I wanted to be able to do the same.
When asked what his favorite moment in engineering was, Mattson went back to an early career experience, relating: “Soon after I started my first industry job, I was put in charge of a small project. We had to understand the requirements, be creative, be analytical, and commit to design features that would go into production. There's an interesting moment between pre-production parts and production parts; in that moment, as a young engineer, I really hoped that our product would work the way we designed it to. When the production parts were tested and shown to work I realized that my engineering training had been worth it and that I could indeed design products and systems that worked the way I wanted them to.”
Mattson took a global perspective on the field of engineering when asked about what the future might hold, and what types of obstacles engineering will overcome, stating: “Almost everything around us has been engineered. And for this reason the engineer has a significant place in our society. For our own society, the future is most certainly bright as engineering will continue to bring new and desirable technologies to people every day.” He continued: “For people in developing countries, the future is even brighter as the influence of engineering is spreading further and further into their societies. This means we are starting to see more and more people getting access to clean water, medical care, and better transportation and communication technologies.”
When asked what advice he would give students who are currently enrolled in engineering programs at the collegiate level, Mattson has this advice: “Start building a place for yourself in the network of engineering professionals. Begin with your professors; get to know them and let them know you to such a degree that they can recommend you to their industrial colleagues. Get involved in their research. Act like you fit in the position you want to fill someday; dress more professionally, make and keep commitments, double check your engineering, be someone that others want to work with.”
For those in high school and thinking about a career in engineering, Mattson counseled: “As you know, engineering requires a strong foundation in math and science. Do all that you can to build that foundation. Don't forget, however, that engineering is also a creative profession, and one that can make a real difference in the world when we have an awareness of current world events and needs. Start growing an appreciation for creative things and current events now, and make it a part of who you will become as an engineer.”
Mattson concluded the interview with these thoughts about AIAA: “For 10 years I have been a member of the AIAA Multidisciplinary Design Optimization Technical Committee. Joining the committee and interacting with that network of professionals has been by far one of the most valuable activities I have ever engaged in. So many of the good things that have come my way can be traced back to the relationships formed on the technical committee.”
AIAA congratulates Dr. Mattson for winning a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and for his selection as the AIAA Member Spotlight for September, 2012. We wish him the best on his continuation of his research, and in his efforts to eradicate global poverty.