UC Graduate Awarded Highest Honor by President Obama

By: Lauren Koch

UC continues to enhance its research reputation. UC graduate, Michael Spottswood, was one of 94 researchers honored with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in a White House ceremony held this October.

“President Barack Obama greets the 2010 PECASE recipients in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 14, 2011.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)”

“President Barack Obama greets the 2010 PECASE recipients in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)”

Michael Spottswood, UC PhD graduate (2006), was awarded the highest honor given by the United States government to science and engineering professionals, the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Spottswood works as a civilian researcher in the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Structural Sciences Center (SSC).  The SSC is a small group within the Air Vehicles Directorate of AFRL.

The PECASE award is intended to recognize and nurture America’s finest young scientists and engineers, support their continued development, and foster innovative developments in science and technology.

“It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers—careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the Nation,” affirmed President Obama. “That so many of them are also devoting time to mentoring and other forms of community service speaks volumes about their potential for leadership, not only as scientists but as model citizens.”1

While at UC, Spottswood worked towards his PhD alongside his advisor Professor Randy Allemang. Allemang and Spottswood studied together at the Mechanical Engineering Department at UC’s world-class Structural Dynamics Research Laboratory.

Spottswood comments, “I chose UC because of the Mechanical Engineering Departments historical leadership in the area of structural dynamics and modal analysis.”

He says, As I was completing my PhD research, I began to read through the literature about the often repeated failures of past hypersonic vehicle programs. Sustained hypersonic flight is one of the most difficult flight regimes.  This is true for structural analysis, as well as material science and propulsion perspectives.”

The trend in military aircraft design has been towards greater speeds, increased propulsion, and greater control. When trying to create a hypersonic aircraft, flying at speeds greater than or equal to Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound or about 3,800 miles per hour), the design has to factor in three main phenomena; high temperatures, friction, and chemical changes due to excessive heat. The speed these vehicles experience can cause chemical changes on a molecular level to occur – the skin and supporting structures get soft and some melt.

After completion of his PhD at UC in 2006, Spottswood began his work as a Team Lead in the Structural Sciences Center (SSC). Spottswood says, “The objective of our group is to explore and develop methods for the structural-scale simulation of hypersonic vehicle structures operating in extreme-environments. To put it simply, we would like the ability to simulate the response, material evolution, and ultimately predict the useful life of these extreme-environment structures.”

Spottswood and his team conduct in-house state-of-the-art research and experiments. The SSC also works with NASA and other groups in the aerospace and academic community.

“I have been frustrated by the aerospace community’s inability to accurately predict the response and life of realistic and representative aircraft structures”, says Spottswood. “The trouble is that structures expected to survive repeated exposure to combined, extreme loading conditions (excessive temperatures, thermally-induced stresses and aero acoustic loading) cannot be analyzed in this fashion – the problems are often nonlinear in nature. The audacity and technical difficulty of this goal, as well as the ability to learn from experts throughout the aerospace community and academia is what drives me.”

Spottswood is currently a program manager overseeing two divisions. The first is a six-year effort to analyze, design and create durable and reusable hypersonic hot-structures for the US Air Force.

Hot-structure technology has been applied to all kinds of space transportation and re-entry vehicles, such as the Boeing X-37 (also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle) and the Space Shuttle. These structures have to operate at temperatures ranging from 1500 to 3000 degrees Celsius.

In addition, Spottswood is the program manager for the Midwest Structural Sciences Center. The center is an AFRL-academia collaborative research center consisting of 20+ faculty, researchers, and graduate students at the University of Illinois. 

When speaking of his future Spottswood says, “It would be very exciting to study large scale, realistic and representative structures in the true hypersonic environment, either through wind-tunnel testing or flight-test.  The characterization of loads (structural driving forces), and the interaction of the structural response with the high-speed environment is not well understood and can lead to some very interesting behavior.”

Spottswood is the second UC PhD graduate from the mechanical engineering program to receive this prestigious award.  Doug Adams, UC PhD graduate (2000), was honored by President Bush in 2002. Both Michael Spottswood and Doug Adams received their PECASE through their research for the Department of Defense.



1.      Click the link to view the original White House press release, complete with a list of all award recipients and quote from President Obama.



This photograph is provided by THE WHITE HOUSE as a courtesy and may be printed by the subject(s) in the photograph for personal use only. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not otherwise be reproduced, disseminated or broadcast, without the written permission of the White House Photo Office. This photograph may not be used in any commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.