ASRC - Carlos T. Mata, Ph.D. - Principal Investigator
Carlos Mata has merged his love of electrical engineering and fascination with lightning to become a nationally recognized lightning specialist, while still finding time to solve the technical challenges faced by small businesses that turn to SATOP for help.
Mata’s mother and father realized early on that their son had a burning interest in electronics. As a young boy growing up in Cumaná, a small city on the east coast of Venezuela, Mata began opening electronic equipment as soon as he learned how to use a screwdriver, leading his parents to hide such items from him. “As long as I can remember, I wanted to be an engineer and electricity always fascinated me,” Mata said.
Although family members thought he might become a medical doctor to follow in his parents’ footsteps – his mother is an ophthalmologist and his father is a general surgeon/oncologist – Mata’s love of engineering won out. He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas and went on to earn both his master’s and Ph.D. in electromagnetism, power and control systems from the University of Florida
The Sunshine State also was the ideal place to study a subject of lifelong fascination for Mata: lightning. At the University of Florida, he had been thrilled to discover the Lightning Laboratory, where researchers were triggering lightning using a rocket with a trailing wire. He immediately signed up to help and has been involved with the laboratory’s lightning research ever since. He also ran triggered lightning experiments at the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing (ICLRT), at Camp Blanding, Fla.
“Lightning is a very intriguing natural phenomenon that is not yet very well understood -- this is what captivated me,” Mata said. “Witnessing a lightning strike a few meters away is an indescribable experience. Witnessing many of them is something you cannot even put into words.”
Mata now is a principal investigator with ASRC Aerospace Corporation in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and participates in research projects with the Lightning Laboratory. His expertise in lightning protection is considered an invaluable asset to not only the Kennedy Space Center, but also to requestors that have used SATOP. “Working to unravel the mysteries of lightning and helping small businesses that have suffered from lightning damage is intensely satisfying,” Mata said. “This is definitely something I enjoy and can do for the rest of my life.”
One-On-One With Carlos Mata:
What job you would have had if you had not become an engineer and why?
I would have been a scientist in some closely related field. I just cannot imagine doing something much different from what I do.
Do you enjoy any pastimes not related to engineering?
Being around and playing with my 3-year-old son, Carlos Miguel.
Engineering project you wish you could have worked on:
I wish I could have worked on the Apollo project, but I was too young. I also wish I could have worked on designing and building the most powerful and impressive hydroelectric power plants in the world: Itaipu and Guri. These are the two biggest hydroelectric plants in the world and really impressive engineering work and art masterpieces.
Personal accomplishment(s) of which you are most proud:
I am very proud of my professional accomplishments, my degrees, recognitions, etc. But I think I am most proud of my family. My wife, son, parents and brothers have always supported me, which is one of the main reasons I have accomplished so much in my career. Without their support I do not think I would be where I am now.
What do you enjoy most about being a SATOP volunteer?
Being able to help a lot with just a bit of my time is very rewarding. Educating people on unfamiliar subjects for them and realizing how much this may help them is extremely satisfying. You immediately see the positive results of your work.