Alumni Profile: Matthew Rissler

If NASA someday colonizes the heavens through an artificial gravity space ring, part of the thanks would go to HU nanobiotechnology major Matthew Rissler.

The dream of an artificial gravity space ring is creating a safe, maneuverable, long-term habitable residence for humans. Rissler calls it “a large circular space station that spins in order to simulate gravity inside.” Early models have leaked and been clunky, but work persists. Rissler created a model and presented it to NASA.

“Our model was the first full-life dynamic model that showed how it could be collapsed and expand under its own force,” he notes. “Obviously, it’s a rudimentary model, but for a model, it’s pretty good.”

Matt Rissler, a 2013 graduate from Harrisburg University, not only learned about nanobiotechnology but plunged into the field of scientific modeling by partnering on projects with established researchers as a student. He worked with the inventor of the inter-nodal connector architecture system, or INCA, which manipulates and connects Y-shaped connectors that mimic carbon nanotubes to model an infinite variety of applications.

With INCA’s inventor, Rissler co-founded the INCAnaut challenge and secured $10,000 in grants to run it at HU. The competition challenged high school students to build models from INCA kits — the same material Rissler used for his artificial gravity space ring.

Entries in the first INCAnaut Challenge included models for artificial lungs and a domed field hospital. With strengths 80 to 100 times greater than steel, carbon nanotubes also have applications for such uses as bulletproof fabrics, artificial limbs, and cleaning oils spills, says Rissler.

“It’s very diverse,” he says.

Rissler’s interest in technology dates to childhood. He learned about computers from his dad, a software engineer, and once pulled an old computer from the trash and worked 20 hours to make it run again. He and his 12 brothers and sisters were home-schooled. He and three brothers are Eagle Scouts. His Eagle Scout project for a combined blood and food drive that attracted 54 blood donors � including 27 new donors — was lauded for its organization and focus.

“My dad and mom are extremely hard workers and very dedicated,” says Rissler, who comes from Myerstown, in Lebanon County, PA. “They passed that along and taught us how to teach other people and do conflict resolution. Things like that are pretty deeply ingrained.”

Rissler got his associate’s degree from Harrisburg Area Community College and decided on HU when biotechnology professor Dr. Mrunalini Pattarkine helped with a nanotech connectors research project.

“I called her once, asked for some ideas on some research and got good answers, and decided to come here,” he says.

He also took an HU summer course on nanobiotech “that was so good, I decided to switch my degree from engineering to nanobiotechnology,” he says. He has been involved with student government and tutoring other students. Financial aid, including a scholarship awarded to one student a year by The G.R. & Grace M. Sponaugle Charitable Foundation, helped him stay in school.

“Without that help, I definitely would not have been able to finish my bachelor’s at the university,” he says. “I got very borderline quite a few times. It was a struggle.”

After the first INCAnaut Challenge in spring 2012, Rissler won a provisional patent and established Dynamic Arc Systems, a company that is developing modeling software along with a new construction toy system and a modular robot system. After graduation in spring 2013, he’ll pursue a master’s in engineering management, to learn how to manage and communicate with the engineers his company will hire and work with.

Today Matt is a technology specialist with Avanti Technologies in Washington, DC and in the Officer Candidate Program for the PA National Guard.

Rissler credits HU professors and administrators with boosting his studies and projects.

“All the administration was really helpful and very supportive, and they were very knowledgeable,” Rissler says.

“They could see a lot of things I couldn’t see, such as complications with programs and ideas I would suggest. The help from everyone at HU is why I’ve been successful.”