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Alumnus breaks scientific ground

staff writer

Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 12:10

Researchers hold microsolar cells

RESEARCHERS MURAT OKANDAN, Greg Nielson and Jose Cruz-Campa hold arrays of microsolar cells. Nielson, a USU alumnus, is one of the 10 most brilliant, creative and groundbreaking young scientists in the country, according to Popular Science Magazine. Photo courtesy of Randy Montoya

For some students, the idea of being accepted into a renowned university, receiving distinguished awards or attaining significant accomplishments may seem out of reach. For USU alumnus Greg Nielson, all these things have become a reality. According to Popular Science Magazine, Nielson is one of the 10 most brilliant, creative and groundbreaking young scientists in the country.


A native of Bountiful, Utah, Nielson graduated from Viewmont High School in 1992 and attended a year of college at USU before serving an LDS mission in Wisconsin. During the summer before his senior year in high school, he was able to participate in the Engineering State program at USU, where he was first exposed to engineering and some of the opportunities it had to offer.


“It helped me to think,” he said. “I had a good time.”


In 1998, Nielson got his bachelor’s degree from USU, majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in computer science. He was an honors program graduate, peer advisor and also worked in the Space Dynamics Lab as a research assistant. Before graduating he participated in two internship opportunities, both at Sandia Labs, where he currently works and performs his research.


“The faculty and other professors were great,” he said. “They gave me some perspective on things. I had lots of experiences that gave me a good background, as well as opportunities that helped me to grow.”


Nielson said his time at Utah State had an impact on him and helped to form him for the future.


“You can’t really separate yourself from your college experience,” Nielson said. “It was a very formative time. USU will always be a part of me because of that.”


After graduating, Nielson went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He spent six years there and received his masters and doctorate degrees, both through the department of mechanical engineering. He said he had a very broad experience at MIT and did his Ph.D. work in optical micro and nanotechnology, exploring how light interacts with mechanical devices.


Nielson began working at Sandia Labs in 2004, having been selected through the prestigious Truman Fellows Program, which gave him employment and funding for his own research ideas. He currently continues his work at Sandia Labs as a Principal Member of Technical Staff, working on research and development projects and leading a team of 30 researchers.

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