The White House honored a BYU engineering professor with an award for young engineering and science researchers on July 23.
Assistant professor Christopher Mattson received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for his work creating new technologies for impoverished communities.
The award was given to 96 researchers across the United States this year. Mattson became the second BYU professor to receive the award; Adam Woolley was honored in 2007.
“It’s a real honor to have our day-to-day research efforts recognized by the president of the United States,” Mattson said in a press release. “This award reminds us of the important impact our research is having.”
Mattson was nominated for the award by the National Science Foundation for 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,” according to an extract from the award.
As co-director of BYU’s mechanical engineering capstone program, Mattson routinely works directly with students on research projects, often mentoring students on their personal research projects.
“He’s not only worked on individuals but has helped run the program that every graduating senior takes,” said Tim W. McLain, the department chairman for BYU’s mechanical engineering program. “His research is tightly coupled with the work he does teaching and with undergraduate students. He’s able to combine that and also produce some great research.”
Mattson recently returned from a 15-day trip to Peru with three students who studied innovative ways to help impoverished communities rise above their current poverty. As part of the trip, Mattson oversaw the research of a bachelor’s, a master’s and a Ph.D. student.
Last year, Mattson took several students to Tanzania as part of a well-drilling project. Along with six students, Mattson helped test an inexpensive, human-powered drill designed for needy communities like the ones visited. The drill was easy to move and significantly decreased the costs of drilling a well, something greatly needed in areas with limited access to clean water.
Nathan Toone, a master’s student in mechanical engineering at BYU, participated in the trip to Tanzania last year.
“As we were developing the project throughout the year, he always had a clear vision of what next step we needed to take,” Toone said. “He does a great job of helping students understand how to help in humanitarian projects.”
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Toone said Mattson helped students understand the nuances of developing humanitarian projects. From reminding students of resource constraints to cultural expectations, Mattson guided the class not only through designing the project, but navigating through the process of tailoring it for a particular locality.
After receiving the award, Mattson gave back to his students yet again.
“I have a remarkable group of talented research assistants, without them there is no meaningful research,” Mattson said. “So I consider this award theirs as much as it is mine.”