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NMSU engineer receives top award from Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program

New Mexico State University's outreach accomplishments in engineering may not be as well branded around the state as Extension programs related to agriculture or family/nutrition issues, but a recent luncheon honoring Yu-Ping Tang, a senior engineer at the university's Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center, made it clear that those accomplishments are also noticed and appreciated.

NMSU College of Engineering M-TEC engineer Yu-Ping Tang, left, accepts a certificate of achievement from Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program director and project engineer Naomi Engelman during a special awards luncheon held in Tang's honor at La Posta restaurant in Mesilla. The certificate was awarded in recognition of Tang's achievement as the Best Performing Top Alliance Partner Engineer for 2010-2011. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

At the event, Naomi Engelman of the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program presented Tang with the organization's 2010-2011 Top Performance Partner Engineer Award for his involvement in more of SATOP's small business assistance projects than any other partner engineer nationwide during the previous year. A dozen of Tang's faculty and student colleagues attended the luncheon.

"It has been a pleasure working with Yu-Ping and the NMSU M-TEC staff," Engelman said. "Yu-Ping is always so eager to help our small businesses. This award is a testament to his enthusiasm. We are incredibly grateful for his contribution. And of course, we couldn't have done it without the great support of his NMSU colleagues."

SATOP was established through a grant from NASA to facilitate the application of space program expertise and specialized equipment in the private sector. Specifically, they offer approved small business and entrepreneur applicants up to 40 hours of technical assistance through their nationwide network of nearly 50 partnering institutions, including universities and major corporations.

The congruence of M-TEC's and SATOP's missions has resulted in a strong partnership since M-TEC joined the alliance in 2002.

"It has been a great opportunity for M-TEC and the College of Engineering to work with SATOP and to assist so many businesses in New Mexico," said Anthony Hyde, a professor of engineering technology and the director of M-TEC. "It's been a perfect fit for Yu-Ping - he enjoys engineering and technical problems."

Tang has been involved in 111 assistance projects through SATOP, but Hyde emphasized that every M-TEC staff member has been involved, as have around 20 engineering students over the years.

"I am very happy to receive this award," Tang said. "I thank SATOP, NMSU, the Department of Engineering Technology and Surveying, and M-TEC for the many opportunities to respond to the requests for technical assistance. I especially thank M-TEC staff and students for their help on many projects."

Tang, who is from the city of Jinan in the Chinese province of Shandong, earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from NMSU in 1997 and has been employed by the university ever since. Among his most notable accomplishments on the M-TEC team is the creation of the university's Robotics Invention Lab.

Although approximately half of Tang's SATOP projects have involved small businesses in New Mexico, he has also worked with clients from 12 other states, including California, Colorado, Florida, New York and Texas. Except for the local projects, all of the work is accomplished remotely, largely through phone conversations, email and the Internet. In addition to contributing his mechanical engineering expertise to many projects, Tang has been challenged to apply principles of materials, structural, electrical and process engineering on numerous occasions.

A favorite project of Tang's involved the Quix Bottle, a baby bottle designed to mix powdered baby formula and water to meet urgent baby-feeding needs. It was developed by a Florida entrepreneur after he and his wife had an unpleasant restaurant experience with their hungry baby. "I felt that project was pretty challenging and worthwhile," Tang said. A leaking seal between the bottle's two chambers was the problem Tang offered to solve. "After I took the project, I gave them five ideas and all could solve the sealing problem. Finally, they decided to use my first idea and accepted the design. Later, they got an award for the invention."

Among Tang's SATOP projects in New Mexico are a headset lighting system for aviators, a bookbinding machine, hideaway exercise equipment, wind-powered equipment for drilling water wells, a trash bin handle, an automatic sawdust sweeper, a sprayer for pesticides, a "kicking machine," and even a process for "the release of cremated ashes from an airborne device."

NMSU, through the College of Engineering, is one of only nine Space Alliance partners in SATOP's top, or platinum, category, which designates partners that contribute at least 1,000 hours per year to SATOP clients. Other platinum partners in the consortium include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, the University of Central Florida and the Florida Institute of Technology.

According to Engelman, SATOP is facing elimination due to NASA budget cuts. She said there was a previous hiatus in SATOP work due to funding issues in 2008, so it is possible that the program will again be resurrected.

"I am extremely saddened by the pending closure of SATOP," Engelman said. "It is an amazing program with many beneficiaries. SATOP not only helps small businesses overcome a specific engineering challenge, allowing them to create or retain jobs and contribute to our nation's economy. It also allows our partners an opportunity to give back to the small business community, stay current on national trends, and work on exciting and different projects."

Regardless of SATOP's future, the program and its Space Alliance Partners can take great pride in having provided technical assistance in more than 2,500 cases.

For more information about M-TEC, go to http://mtec.nmsu.edu/