President Obama invited a UF professor to the White House last weekend.

Michele Manuel, a UF assistant professor in the materials science and engineering department, heard first lady Michelle Obama speak while in D.C. with the 104 other researchers recognized at the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. The annual awards recognize science and engineering professionals who do research early in their careers.

Former President Bill Clinton established the awards in 1996. The Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation and eight other agencies or departments honored young researchers.

Manuel was nominated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Thursday, the same day she said she learned she got the award. Those nominated automatically receive it.

Manuel said this was the second time she has gone to the White House. The first was to accept an award on behalf of NASA.

She said she worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center for 10 years until 2008, when she came to UF. In her career, she has studied how different metals absorb shock when a car hits an object. She found lightweight metals, such as magnesium and aluminium, keep drivers safer than steel, which is commonly used to make cars.

“The aluminium structure, when combined with carbon fiber and magnesium, results in mass reduction of a vehicle,” she said.

Oscar Figueroa III, a UF doctoral student in the materials science and engineering department, has worked with Manuel since 2012.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have worked with Dr. Manuel,” the 25-year-old said. “She has taught me what it takes to be a good researcher.”

He said he’s learned the values of being a good leader from her.

“I am overjoyed for my adviser and her prestigious award and couldn’t be more proud,” he said. “I am lucky to have the opportunity to conduct lightware vehicle research with her.”

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