Idaho Engineering Professor Receives Presidential Award for Innovation and Social Impact

Monday, February 2 2009

Feb. 2, 2009 Photos are available at Written by Leah Andrews MOSCOW, Idaho – Aaron Thomas, an associate professor with the University of Idaho’s Chemical Engineering department, recently traveled to the White House to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The award is given for a combination of innovative research and community service demonstrated through scientific leadership and community outreach. “My outreach goals are to increase the number of students in science and engineering, specifically Native American/Alaska Native students,” said Thomas, who is a member of the Navajo tribe from New Mexico, and has been involved in a number of outreach programs at the University of Idaho and around the region. “Many people have helped me throughout my career, both as a student and as a faculty member, to reach my current position at the University of Idaho. I feel that it is my responsibility to do the same for other students, specifically Native students in the community. I believe my background and my position provides me unique opportunity to positively impact the Native community.” “The College of Engineering is proud to have Dr. Thomas on our faculty,” said Don Blackketter, dean of the College of Engineering. "I appreciate his willingness to share his time and talents with young people. He motivates us all to give back to our community and to achieve our fullest potential." Thomas gives demonstrations and presentations at schools within the tribal communities, and mentors native high school students in the summer through the Helping Orient Indian Students and Teachers (HOIST) program in the science, technology, engineering and math fields at Idaho. He also is one of the principal investigators in the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program in Idaho, which brings University of Idaho faculty and students to the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene tribes to build computers with students and encourages them to consider careers in math engineering and science. “I believe that as an educator at a learning institution, our responsibility goes beyond the classroom and our labs,” said Thomas. “This award shows that one of the goals of the scientific community in the United States is not just good research, but your impact on society as a whole as well.” Thomas’ research in chemical engineering involves separating biological species on the micro-scale and separating contaminant gases on a larger scale, by employing a novel mechanical separation mechanism that uses oscillatory flows. # # # About the University of Idaho Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit Media Contact: Leah Andrews College of Engineering, University of Idaho, (208) 885-7978,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit