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CONTACT: Susie P. Gonzalez

April 10, 2008



Trinity University Student Earns Recognition as Goldwater Scholar


Jonathon “Jon” Simpkins

SAN ANTONIO – Coming from a military family, Trinity University junior Jonathon “Jon” Simpkins grew up hearing about war casualties. As an engineering science major at Trinity, he developed an interest in combining mathematics with technology so that robots could perform non-combat duties, thus freeing up soldiers for other duties and possibly avoiding the loss of human life. His research proposal has earned him a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for the 2008-2009 academic year.  


Mr. Simpkins uses an alternative mathematical approach to videogrammetry, technology that would enable a robot to mimic human sight as it discerns nearby objects and determines how close the objects might be. “The motivation behind this research is that if we can teach a machine to see things the way we do, then we can develop machines that take the place of people in certain jobs which require vision-based navigation,” he said. “This has valuable applications in military technology, where any number of non-combat duties of soldiers might someday be relegated to vision-capable machines.”


If certain tasks, such as transportation, could be automated and performed by robots, soldiers could then perform other duties and the military could avoid losing human lives every time a transportation convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, Mr. Simpkins noted. He won an honorable mention as a Goldwater Scholar last year for a similar project.


The son of Thomas and Melanie Simpkins, formerly of Minneapolis and now living in Wisconsin, he graduated from Cole High School on the Fort Sam Houston Army post in San Antonio. The senior Mr. Simpkins is a retired lieutenant colonel.


Professor Peter Kelly-Zion, associate professor of engineering science and Trinity's faculty adviser to the Goldwater Scholarship, called Jonathan “an exceptional student” who is known for his inquisitiveness and ability to think independently and creatively.


The student has worked with Professor Kelly-Zion and Christopher Pursell, professor of chemistry, in a research project involving the evaporation of fuel films to improve the efficiency of car engines, work that is unrelated to his Goldwater proposal involving robotics.   


“He has a lot of interests,” said Professor Kelly-Zion. In addition to Mr. Simpkins' expertise in engineering science, he has a hobby of making films. He wrote and produced “A Story About Bob,” which received raves after its premier in Stieren Theater earlier this spring. More recently, he helped organize a 24-hour film race sponsored by Trinity's Tiger TV operation.


Other nominees from Trinity for this year’s Goldwater Scholarship were physics major Megan Holtz of Lubbock, neuroscience major Patrick O'Malley of Sugar Land, Texas, and Timothy Satterfield of Houston, who is majoring in physics and economics.


Trustees of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Foundation awarded 321 scholarships in March to outstanding sophomores and juniors majoring in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering science.  The scholarship is for a maximum of $7,500 to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, or room and board.


The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established in honor of former Arizona Sen. Barry M. Goldwater.  The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. In its 20-year history, the Foundation has awarded 5,523 scholarships worth approximately $54 million.


The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,035 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Only 52 of the winners are in the field of engineering.



© 2008 Trinity University

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