New Zealander researches at Tech

Dr. Matthew Pearce smiles for a selfie at an Appalachian Trail trail head
Dr. Matthew Pearce is helping Dr. Charles Van Neste conduct research as a post-doctoral researcher for the Center for Energy Systems Research at Tech. Peace poses for photo on the Appalachian Trail (above). Photo provided by Matthew Pearce.

Electrical engineer? World traveler? Researcher? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what to call this New Zealander. Regardless of what you call him, this “kiwi” has always kept one thing in his mind: do the best you can with what you have.

“The formative years were in Whangarei … It’s actually, I didn’t realize, it’s quite humid in Whangarei so it’s not too dissimilar to here, though it’s definitely not as humid and hot. But, of course, we have pretty good beaches, ocean beaches,” he remarked.

Whangarei, pronounced fa-nga-rei, is the northernmost city in New Zealand and the place where Dr. Matthew Pearce cultivated his passion for electrical engineering and first applied his personal motto.

“I like electrical engineering. I don’t really know why, I guess cause dad was interested in it, so we had a bunch of just some miscellaneous electronic junk at home,” Pearce said. “I’d sort of sit and mess about with it and wondered how it worked, so I went and got some degrees and I still wonder how some of it works, but it’s good.”

Using what he had around him, Pearce developed a passion for electronics and engineering. This led him to pursue both an undergraduate degree and a PhD.

Earning his PhD in roadway electric vehicle charging from the University of Auckland in 2020, Pearce had already worked on some very impressive projects.

One of these projects was a high-tech diving glove designed to translate a diver’s hand gestures into commands that control an underwater robot 11,000 miles away.

“So, there’s a thing that will read the movement of fingers. It’s got a microprocessor in it; it’s got an accelerometer in it. Got a little acoustic modem, lights, buzzer, wireless charger, battery. Someone else did the software for it, fortunately. So, there’s machine learning in there to recognize gestures when they move their hand. Then it will recognize the gesture, send the signal to the underwater robot and then the underwater robot will move based on the movement of your hand,” Pearce explained.

Today though, he is helping Dr. Charles Van Neste conduct research as a post-doctoral researcher for the Center for Energy Systems Research at Tech.

“And then I finished the PhD and I met Dr. Van Neste at Wireless Power, it’s a conference in London, in 2019. And he’s doing interesting work, really interesting work. Novel methods of wireless power transfer. So, capacitive power transfer using an electric field instead of a magnetic field and also some ‘through the soil’ methods. Basically, some stuff I don’t know that much about, but I knew enough about to be able to do. A branching out for me and it’s just really interesting,” Pearce said.

Again, though, Pearce and his colleagues are doing the best they can with what they have.

“We have plenty to do. So many interesting projects, not enough time, money and people to do it. But we look for all of those things actively,” he explained.

“I think the work we’re doing here, Charles is doing, if it does work, it will matter a lot. And it does work, actually work, the question is, is it practical? We can transfer power with an electric field and some other groups are doing multiple kilowatts,” Pearce shared. “We can transfer power through a single wire system, we’ve done that downstairs. We can transfer power through the earth. It’s just, how much can we improve it? And if we can improve it a lot, it will matter a lot.”

Pearce is truly passionate about the work he’s doing at Tech. He often follows up on his research in his free time after work, always trying to learn something new.

While he considers his work a hobby, Pearce also has a few other passions, namely traveling and getting outdoors.

“So, I went to Utah and visited my friend. He’s working at Utah State, in Logan. And we did three trips,” he recalled. “We did Glacier National Park, which was awesome. We went Wind River State Park or whatever it is, which was awesome. Oh, the Grand Teton National Park in Idaho. I think we did pretty good work. I think the Wind River one we did 30 miles.”

Pearce has also traveled to Spain and London, in addition to trips around his native country, New Zealand.

Despite his passion for traveling and impressive research he is conducting at Tech, Pearce would like to end up back in his homeland.

“I think I’d like to live back in New Zealand at some point, but you never know. The United States has a lot going for it, so. But I have a lot of home at home,” shared Pearce. “It’s hard to leave all that and I think it would be a bit sad too, because I am lucky. I have a pretty good support group, pretty good family and a lot of, sort of, history I guess, in New Zealand, so. It would be nice to take advantage of that.”

There’s no question Pearce has already amassed an impressive resume, body of work and experience in life: he has been to four countries, earned two degrees, and helped research possible industry changing technologies. However, his key to success is quite simple.

“So, I noticed a lot of people, including me, especially me, perhaps, would be like, ‘ah, I’ll do this thing later, I’ll do this thing when I have better resources.’ Or, ‘I need this technology to make this thing happen.’ But, the better thing to think is ‘what’s the best I can do with what I have now?’ And it’s usually a lot,” Pearce laughed. “It’s pretty amazing what you can do if you just get up and do it.”