Nelson recognized as 2024 Outstanding Young Alumnus


Alumnus Arif Nelson (BSME 2013, MSME 2015, PhDME 2018) is an assistant professor at Singapore Institute of Technology.

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Arif Nelson
Assistant Professor Arif Nelson

Three-time MechSE alumnus Arif Nelson (BSME 2013, MSME 2015, PhDME 2018) was the second of this year’s recipients of the MechSE Outstanding Young Alumni Award, which recognizes alumni who have graduated from the department fewer than 10 years ago and who have embodied the department and university’s values in their professional careers. Established in 2015, more than two dozen MechSE alumni have received this award.

Nelson, whose MS and PhD advisor was Professor Randy Ewoldt, is an Assistant Professor at Singapore Institute of Technology.

Nelson has been a student at the University of Illinois since childhood, beginning with University Primary School, then attending the University Laboratory High School and earning all three of his degrees from MechSE. During his graduate school career, he worked with Ewoldt on the characterization and design of soft materials and complex fluids for food systems, 3D printing, and more.

After leaving Illinois, Nelson moved to Singapore where he worked as a postdoctoral associate at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, applying the knowledge and skills he gained during his doctoral work to develop new methods for manufacturing pharmaceutical products.

Mark Woodmansee, Randy Ewoldt, Tony Jacobi
Nelson's graduate advisor Randy Ewoldt (center) accepted the award on his behalf. 

“When I first chose to study mechanical engineering, I didn’t have a great idea of what I wanted to do in my career. But no matter what I ended up being interested in, there would almost certainly be some connection to mechanical engineering,” Nelson said. “Today, building off the work that I did with Randy in complex fluids and soft materials, I’m very proud to manage a great group of researchers and work on a very wide variety of projects, from sustainable foods to pharmaceutical manufacturing, biological systems and even consumer product design.”

Since 2022, in his own research program in a food, chemical and biotechnology cluster at the Singapore Institute of Technology, he is focused on applications of soft material design that will drive innovation across the industries of sustainable food systems, pharmaceuticals, and other formulated products. Inspired by educational outreach presentations that he began at Illinois as part of Engineering Open House, Nelson hopes to translate his research into more impactful applied learning practices to improve how soft material concepts are taught to a new generation of engineers.

“Beyond the broad base of knowledge I acquired in MechSE I think the most important things that were cultivated in me were the creativity, the confidence, and the ability to think  about problems and solutions, and work together with others and rely on them in a way that no matter what comes my way or where I find myself, I can figure things out and have a real impact,” Nelson said. “Thank you to the department for this honor and support and I will continue to do my very best to be worthy of it.”

Nelson was honored at the MechSE Spring Awards Banquet April 19.  Because he was unable to travel back to campus from Singapore, Ewoldt received the award on his behalf.

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This story was published May 13, 2024.