Dr. Charles L. Matson
PhD, Mathematics, 1986
M.S., Electro-Optics, 1983
Dr. Charles Matson, a member of the Scientific and Professional Cadre of Senior Executives, is Chief Scientist of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) in Arlington, VA. AFOSR is the basic research manager for the AF; charged to discover, shape and champion basic research that has the potential to profoundly impact the future of the AF.
“My role is to position us well to find the science that will accomplish our mission. Because we cover the entire basic research program for the AF, it encompasses everything from biological systems, chemistry, aircraft systems, and space craft propulsion” said Dr. Matson. Currently, AFOSR is emphasizing four major technical areas: directed energy, human-machine teaming, quantum systems, and hypersonics. “My AFIT education really helped me get the breadth of technical background to be able to carry out the duties effectively.”
It is clear when talking to Dr. Matson that he is enthusiastic and driven by the opportunities to impact the AF’s research foundation that his position provides. When asked to describe what excites him about his job, Dr. Matson says it is “…having the chance to do the best I can through my organization to set up young scientists to do the basic research that provides the foundation for applied and developmental research which then leads to tangible AF capabilities.”
One of the most important skills Dr. Matson has learned over his career is “…the ability to communicate to senior leaders who don’t have the technical knowledge base that we do. It is critical to learn how to articulate technical information in a way that continues to build advocacy.”
AFOSR invests in long-term, broad-based research with results years, or even decades, in the future. Convincing DOD leaders to make a strong investment in these types of projects could be a hard sell in times of constrained budgets. However, with a budget of $500 million, Dr. Matson states “…the DOD, congress, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy all recognize the importance of basic research. AFOSR is a very active organization seeking the best science. We invest in the tech discovery mission even though we may not know up front how that might apply to the AF because many, if not most, of the huge breakthroughs did not start by knowing the mission that they were going to meet. That is why we choose to invest in emerging technologies.”
In between his AF military career and his AF civilian career, Dr. Matson was an assistant professor in the electrical engineering department of Seattle Pacific University. But the world felt small at a traditional university and he missed the opportunities to have a real impact on the AF mission. In 1993, he returned to the AF and worked as a research scientist within AFRL. Dr. Matson has conducted research in a variety of areas including space surveillance technologies, laser propagation, biomedical imaging, high-performance computing, and image and signal processing theory.
“An AFIT education is absolutely relevant today and, in my opinion, will always have a role in preparing researchers to make a difference in the AF” commented Dr. Matson. “Scientists in the government have such a unique opportunity to have an inordinately big impact on the direction of what the future AF is going to look like. People shouldn’t underestimate that.”