Matthew Wells interns at Center for Space Nuclear Research

University of Tulsa mechanical engineering junior Matthew Wells had options when he graduated from high school in Wichita, Kansas. He was accepted to five other prestigious universities including Pepperdine and Vanderbilt, but he chose TU for its individualized approach to education.

matthew wells“Professors here just really want to get involved in your life, and that’s something that really stuck out to me as someone who loves having personal relationships with people,” Wells said.

Physics and calculus courses in high school led him to pursue mechanical engineering at TU, but he also added a computer science minor to his degree plan — expanding his interests in engineering.

Wells participated in biomechanical undergraduate research as an underclassman with Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Todd Otanicar — an opportunity Wells says would be rare at other universities, but not TU. Otanicar also helped him apply for an internship at the Center for Space Nuclear Research in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Wells was one of only five undergraduates from across the world selected for the position. He spent the summer at the Idaho National Laboratory where he searched for an alternative material to a composite in the protective shell of plutonium inside what’s known as the multi-mission radio isotope thermal electric generator. The device produces power for NASA satellites, probes and rovers.

“I got to look at all of the different thermal and mechanical properties and what a material has to have to protect plutonium as it reenters the atmosphere and potentially impacts Earth,” Wells said.

He was responsible for identifying a less expensive material to reduce NASA costs and at the same time protect the devices from radiation when highly dangerous plutonium sources are used. With aerospace and nuclear engineering on his résumé, Wells hopes to continue diversifying his skills and obtain an internship in the oil and gas industry next summer.

“TU has given me the ability to see all the different fields a mechanical engineer can work in,” he said. “I still don’t know exactly where I’m going to end up, but the experience has helped me refine my interests.”

Wells is a Presidential Scholar, represents TU as a University Ambassador and serves as a teacher’s assistant for President Gerard Clancy’s Presidential Leaders Fellowship class. He also is founder of the TU Golf Club.