Skip to Content

Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing

  • Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Austin Downey and student

Downey receives prestigious award from SC Academy of Sciences

Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Austin Downey has compiled an impressive list of research funding and accolades since joining the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) in 2018. He added another award earlier this month by being recognized by the state of South Carolina for his contributions to science.

Downey was named the winner of the 2024 Governor’s Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research. The award, recognizing contributions to science in their discipline which merit special recognition, is presented by the South Carolina Academy of Science (SCAS). Downey was recognized earlier this month at the 2024 SCAS Annual Meeting. He will also be recognized later this year at a Governor’s Award Ceremony at the South Carolina Statehouse.

“It's always exciting when people acknowledge your work but equally as exciting when it's the state because it's more than an academic award. This is a state award for people trying to grow the economy, educate people and improve outcomes within the state, and contribute to something larger than a specific engineering goal,” Downey says.

Downey added that the award is the state's recognition of the importance of scientific endeavors at the University of South Carolina.

“To me, it shows the quality of the university and our students. The distinction ‘scientific research’ is important because it’s not just engineers but science in general,” Downey says.

Downey’s research expertise and interests include low-latency machine learning, adaptive structures, structural health monitoring and control. He is also the principal investigator for the CEC’s Adaptive Real-Time Systems Laboratory. The interdisciplinary lab focuses on developing tools and solutions that enable systems to adapt to real-time environments.

Downey is currently working on several funded research projects. These include developing real-time model updating and controls systems for smart and adaptive structures that utilize novel sensors and control devices to enable a structure to learn from its environment and respond in the order of milliseconds or less. Applications for these systems include hypersonic aircraft and active blast mitigation systems. His research has been funded by organizations including the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

“This award is big in terms of the state acknowledging excellence in science and engineering, which is an important part of community, economic development and training,” Downey says. “We want to be good stewards of the state’s resources by working with our students. Everything in science is expensive, but the payoff is worth it. As an added bonus, we get the opportunity to train the workforce.”

Travis Knight, chair and professor of the CEC Department of Mechanical Engineering, is impressed how Downey stands out in multiple ways.

“He is a standout in terms of his deep scientific thought and contributions,” Knight says. “This includes the number and diversity of his collaborations across widely varying technical fields, the students he can effectively supervise, and his willingness to operate selflessly for the greater good. He is a scholar and a gentleman indeed.”

Downey says that while most people associate education with classrooms, it also applies to laboratories by teaching students to do experiments, present their work and how to be productive members of scientific societies.

“I love working in the lab, but the students and making those human connections are the most important,” Downey says. “If you can multiply it by what you do in the lab by training 10, 20 or 100 students over a career, then that’s more of an impact. Otherwise, there's a risk that you make the effort, but it has no impact.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.