Alumni Spotlight

Michael Tonks is a BYU Mechanical Engineering alumnus who received his Bachelors of Science in 2001 and Masters of Science in 2002. He then went on to receive a Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008. Upon his graduation from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he completed a one-year post-doctoral position at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), before working another six years at INL as a staff scientist. He joined the Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Department at Pennsylvania State University as an Assistant Professor in August, 2015, where he leads the Microstructure Science and Engineering Lab.

In January of 2017, Tonks was chosen to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), primarily due to his work as a staff scientist at INL. Because of this hard work, this honor was given to Tonks by Barack Obama, former President of the United States. The award will be bestowed at the White House, where Tonks and 102 others will be recognized by the U.S. government for their hard work and research in the scientific field. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/09/president-obama-honors-federally-funded-early-career-scientists

“I am overwhelmed and honored by the award.” Tonks remarked. “Also, my selection for this award is due in large part to the opportunities and collaborators that I had at Idaho National Laboratory.”

Though it has been some time since his time as an undergraduate and Masters student, Tonks credits his time at BYU for providing him with a strong foundation in engineering. 

“Mechanical Engineering at BYU was great. They covered the basic material very well,” Tonks said. “I learned computer skills, computational skills, and writing [skills] that I have relied on throughout my career.”

In addition to his engineering skills, Tonks possesses a unique talent that not many know about: singing. At BYU, Tonks minored in music and was in the BYU Men’s Choir and he and his wife were in the Mapleton Choral for 6 months following their time at BYU. Although he works hard and has many responsibilities at work, Tonks says that he likes coming home to his family and good music to help him relax and stimulate him for the next day.

“Music helps me to forget stress,” Tonks said. “My family helps me to escape and [acts as] a big motivator.”

Although he has been very successful in his work life and has received a very prestigious honor, Michael Tonks remains humble. His research and work will continue to impact and influence everyone around him as he continues to pursue what he loves.