An associate professor of mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University has been awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Christopher A. Mattson is the second professor from the university, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to win this award. Members of this church are sometimes called Mormons. He received the award for his work in using engineering to alleviate poverty and help developing nations, and for his work in providing meaningful learning experiences for engineering students. He focuses on projects that allow people to lift themselves out of poverty.
A recent human-powered drill received considerable attention. He and his students created the drill to allow people in Tanzania to drill for water inexpensively and easily, while being able to easily move the drill to new areas.
Most drilling projects in that area cost as much as 15,000 dollars. The students developed a system that costs 2,000 dollars in materials if built in the United States and can dig much deeper than other equipment. It can be built less expensively in developing nations, and once built, requires only the cost of gasoline to run the pump. Made almost entirely of steel, it is meant to last. Few parts move, decreasing the likelihood of wear and tear or breakdown. The design is simple enough for these developing nations to build themselves, providing more employment for the local citizens. It is anticipated that it will create, directly or indirectly, fifty jobs in each community.
With this system, workers can dig up to 250 feet in a few days, far enough to collect clean water. It requires just four people—three to spin the wheel that turns the bit and a fourth to lift the bit up and done in more difficult spots. A water pump system removes the dirt from the hole.
The drill can be moved in the back of an ordinary pickup truck or by small boat. It can be disassembled and easily carried by hand in villages that have no vehicles
This project was part of the capstone project, which requires engineering students to solve a real-world problem for a real company. This project was completed for WHOLives.org, a non-profit organization. Students were told this was not just an academic assignment—it had the potential to change millions of lives.
Christopher Mattson was the coach for this project. He received his B.S. and M.S. from the Mechanical Engineering Department at BYU, and his Ph.D. from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
For more information on this story:
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.