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David Gonzales II
David Gonzales II

UTSA Opens Doors: Alumnus David A. Gonzales II wins $100K energy prize

By Amanda Beck
Communications Specialist, College of Sciences

(Dec. 3, 2008)--At 21 years old, UTSA alumnus David A. Gonzales II, '08, already has a superb resume to offer to prospective employers. The young inventor was awarded ConocoPhillips' first Energy Prize in October for his Layered MagWheel, a revolutionary invention with applications in the auto industry. Established to recognize and foster creative solutions to the U.S. energy crisis, the ConocoPhillips competition was punctuated by a $100,000 grand prize.

Designed around three concepts, magnetic acceleration/drive, regenerative braking and solid-state transmission, Gonzales' Layered MagWheel incorporates magnets into the wheels of motorized vehicles to assist with acceleration and deceleration. The invention is both simple and flexible. Moreover, the new technology is safe, clean and easy to manufacture, making it appealing to scientists, engineers and consumers.

Gonzales found the ConocoPhillips contest at NewScientist.com, an online version of a popular science magazine. His proposal was one of 300 submitted for the contest, many of which were prepared by teams of scientists with at least one Ph.D. member.

Gonzales' journey to ConocoPhillips' energy competition began with an early interest in technology. The son of a retired Air Force colonel, Gonzales moved often during his childhood. His family eventually settled in San Antonio about seven years ago, and he attended Tom C. Clark High School, where his interests in science and technology led him to pursue an independent study mentorship with two researchers from the Southwest Research Institute. Armando De La Santos and Greg Miller coached Gonzales through his first "primitive" braking system design and opened his eyes to the possibilities of science and engineering.

Entering the Layered MagWheel in the contest was the culmination of years of commitment to it and other projects. Gonzales researched every aspect of the idea from the physics of how it would work to the economics of it and other technologies. Included in his submission were detailed costs for each part used in its manufacturing.

Judges on the competition panel included prestigious members of the scientific community, such as Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. When asked what he thought the judges found appealing about his project, Gonzales responded that the economics and viability of his proposal, and perhaps his age, contributed.

Engineer Alan Montemayor, one of Gonzales' mentors from the Southwest Research Institute, suggested there was an additional reason the judges chose to honor Gonzales' project. According to Montemayor, Gonzales is one of those students with a "magical ability to get enthusiastic about learning."

He added, "When the judges at ConocoPhillips saw him, saw his presentation and saw that in his eyes, that was a major factor in him winning the award."

After graduating from high school in 2005, Gonzales chose to attend The University of Texas at San Antonio because of its commitment to science and technology. He also wanted to maintain his connection to the Southwest Research Institute.

Surprisingly, despite his interest and abilities in engineering and physics, Gonzales chose to major in biology. "I never have been able to confine my interests to one area," he explained. "I've always loved the whole spectrum of science and technology."

It took Gonzales only three years to complete his bachelor of science degree at UTSA, and he did so with honors in 2008. While at UTSA, he received both Great Conversations! and presidential scholarships, which allowed him to concentrate on his education.

Gonzales' parents have been very supportive of his efforts, embracing his projects and goals, and both have provided additional support during the expensive and lengthy patent application process. While he jokes that his parents must have wanted him to move out and get a job, he knows both are supportive of his creations.

The future is clear in Gonzales' mind. Although he doesn't see himself enrolling in a graduate program immediately, he hasn't ruled it out in the future. First, he wants to focus on using his prize money to further develop the Layered MagWheel and other inventions. He loves giving presentations about his work, and he welcomes the new connections he's making in San Antonio's tech sector. He also hopes to continue partnerships with UTSA.

Gonzales represents the future of UTSA and the College of Sciences. When introducing him at the recent campus presentation of the Layered MagWheel, Donald Robin, a UTSA professor with joint appointments in the UTSA Honors College and at the UT Health Science Center said, "I have never had a student like David in my entire teaching career. He is not just a fantastic scientific mind -- he's a phenomenal writer." Robin recalled that while he generally allows students to revise their papers throughout the semester, with Gonzales he simply awarded an "A+" on the first submission.

Gonzales has shown his commitment to the pursuit of knowledge in his scholastic work and in projects like the Layered MagWheel. His dedication will continue to drive success in both his academic and professional careers.

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