Fort Bliss engineer’s son headed to international science fair
By Miguel De Santiago, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:
(El Paso, Texas, April 20, 2017) Matthew Tiberius Tomlinson, son of Fort Bliss civilian engineer, B.J. Tomlinson, is a budding teenage engineer making great strides in his craft and acting on his big dreams.
“Science has been a part of my life since I was old enough to read and write. My father is an engineer so he really inspired me to pursue engineering and I found myself constantly tinkering with things,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a part of my life and it’s a passion of mine to pursue science.”
Tomlinson, who attends El Dorado High School, is no stranger to science fairs and excelling at them or watching his siblings also experience success at science fairs.
“My wife and I have six children, five boys and one girl. We have encouraged them their whole lives to really focus on the sciences and mathematics and encourage their participation in science fairs,” B.J said. “We spend a lot of time with the kids working on these projects together.”
B.J. said his son, who also played on the varsity football team, breaks the stereotype of the high school athlete who doesn’t take academics seriously.
“It shows you can be in sports and be a high-achieving student,” B.J. said.
Tomlinson is in the midst of his senior year and his final high school science project, entitled “The Paradox of Doing it Wrong in Order to Do it Right,” has earned him many accolades including the sweepstakes award for engineering in the district science fair and the best regional project for engineering in the Sun Country regional science fair which in turn also earned Tomlinson the opportunity to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair, the ‘super bowl’ of science fairs, in May.
“It took a little while to hit me; it felt like all the work I put into it did pay off,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson’s project, which he worked on for the past two years, is an algorithm he designed and programmed for search and rescue operations. The program uses Microsoft Excel and Visual Basic to create a simulation of land search and rescue methods and through the combination of two different rescue methods, it figures out the best combinations of both methods in order to find targets in the fastest amount of time and with a higher rate of success, Tomlinson explained.
“It took about eight months of programming,” Tomlinson said. “At the end of it I was able to find a strategy that did work better. I think maybe if I do this for three or more years I can actually find out the best combination to use for any situation and maybe using it for the Coast Guard or the police in town. I eventually want to use this to help save lives and help the people of the world.”
Tomlinson got the seed for his idea while reading a book on paradoxes in mathematics and happened upon the topic of “Parrondo’s paradox,” by Spanish physicist Juan Parrondo, a game theory that suggests utilizing combinations of losing strategies to generate winning strategies.
“So I tried to figure out how I can use that in my skills in programming to apply that to the real world,” Tomlinson said. “I was finding things that this could have been used for like the chaos theory or the stock market but I applied it to land search and rescue because I’ve always wanted to help people.”
An article Matthew read online about a missing child who had wandered away and got lost in the woods and was unfortunately not found in time by authorities provided further inspiration for his project.
“For me that hit close to home because I’m the oldest of six siblings and I wouldn’t want that happening to my siblings,” Tomlinson said. “I wanted to figure out a way I could have found that kid faster and I started thinking about how this could work with Parrondo’s paradox and maybe I could figure out a faster way to find someone with a higher chance of success.”
Tomlinson recently came back from competing in the Texas Science and Engineering Fair, he did not place, but Tomlinson said he’s looking forward to the International Science and Engineering Fair.
“I really want to see what the projects are and meet the people there too,” Tomlinson said. “Just meeting the great minds that are out there and seeing those different ideas and seeing what they’re thinking, it’s really inspiring and really humbling.”
As Tomlinson indulged his natural engineering abilities, he managed to be named a finalist in the National Hispanic Scholar program and also found the time to work on an app with his fellow colleagues that syncs with refrigerators to give users various food related alerts (freshness, supply amounts, recipes) and he’s a youth leader in his church and participates in volunteer efforts helping the homeless.
Tomlinson said he’s looking forward to college and wants to major in mechanical engineering and focus on electrical engineering and computer sciences. He’s not sure which college yet, but knows he wants to attend a college that’s the best fit and best deal for his science interests.
His post-college plans involve working as a research engineer with the Air Force or the military.
“I feel like what better way to help someone than help our own military, make sure that our troops are safe and that we have the best equipment out there,” Tomlinson said.
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