People of Reclamation: Meet Matthew Klein, Professional Engineer

Written by: Emily Quinn

Matthew Klein operates a UAS for Reclamation during a rock fall analysis at Hoover Dam
Matthew Klein operates a UAS for Reclamation during a rock fall analysis at Hoover Dam
Reclamation employs a diverse group of subject matter experts and provides employees with opportunities to utilize their skills. Matthew Klein, P.E., Ph. D., is just one of Reclamation’s unique experts. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering with a focus on Civil Engineering, from Walla Walla University. He went on to receive his Master of Science and Ph. D. in Civil Engineering from Rutgers University.

Matthew found his career by chance while helping a colleague look for work. With only a short amount of time remaining before the position posting closed, Matthew feels fortunate that he was able to apply in time. He has been a part of Reclamation’s Concrete, Geotechnical and Structural Lab for more than five years.

Today, Matthew is splitting his work days between several projects. He says, “About 75 percent of my time is devoted to data collecting and processing related to 3D modeling, movement monitoring, change detection and deterioration mapping of Reclamation’s structures using an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS, also referred to as a drone).” He works closely in partnership with the Hydraulic Labs, Structural Design, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Geology groups for data analysis. The remainder of his work time is dedicated to collecting concrete samples for testing and repairing defective concrete.

“Currently, I’m collecting UAS data at Reclamation’s Seminoe Dam in Wyoming for the purpose of calculating measuring movements in the dam,” says Matthew. “We’re hoping to use the data we collect to differentiate between movements caused by temperature, height of the reservoir and a form of concrete deterioration known as alkali-silica reaction (ASR).” The objective of his UAS work is to analyze the data collected to help the team decide how best to manage each structure.

Matthew has been on the cutting edge of UAS deployment since he began his career here five years ago. He was issued his remote pilot license through the Department of the Interior last year which has allowed him to pursue his passion of performing engineering duties while operating a UAS. He says, “The use of UAS technology helps us ensure the safety of Reclamation’s facilities and promotes cost efficiency for the bureau because it reduces the amount of physical labor that would otherwise be required to conduct certain types of safety inspections.”

For Matthew, there is no such thing as a “routine” day at the office. When he’s not working in the office or lab at Denver’s Technical Service Center, he is likely traveling to conduct UAS operations, concrete and structural investigations and/or presenting results at workshops and conferences.

While Matthew’s job is often fun and exciting, he maintains a serious side and knows that his job plays a vital role in ensuring that our facilities pose no safety risks to the public and environment. “Those of us who work at Reclamation recognize that we have a tremendous responsibility to operate and maintain our magnificent facilities,” says Matthew. “My goal is to collect information that provides data necessary to make the most informed and effective decisions about the current status, and future management, of our structures so that our water operations maintain reliability for years to come.”

By combining his UAS skills with his background in engineering, Matthew is able to take thousands of digital images of our structures. He uses a specialized computer program to stitch the images together, and then creates 3D models that can be used to take measurements that would otherwise be very difficult to obtain. This process is referred to as photogrammetry which is just as reliable and accurate as LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging systems), but is more appealing because the equipment is less expensive and there are few other options for aerial-based LIDAR.

It took a lot of work to get to where he is now, but he says it was worthwhile. “My Ph. D. dissertation was related to novel materials for concrete repair, and I focused on the issues surrounding concrete repair,” said Matthew. “Aside from my formal education, I also have background experience in residential and commercial building construction, amateur photography, and an interest in computers and drone operations.” These interests equipped Matthew with the right skills for the job.

When asked what he likes most about his current position, Matthew said, “I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to visit our facilities and to learn about the historical construction and operation of our various structures.” Getting the chance to meet the people who manage and operate Reclamation’s facilities has also provided him with a unique inside look into how differently things are done today.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in engineering, Matthew has some advice. “Keep an open mind because there are so many potential paths to take that can match your passions with a career,” he says. “The sky is literally the limit so don’t settle for less than what you know you’re capable of accomplishing.”

For a list of Reclamation’s current career vacancies, visit:

Matthew Klein operates a UAS while conducting a rock fall analysis at Hoover Dam
Matthew Klein operates a UAS while conducting a rock fall analysis at Hoover Dam

Unmanned Aircraft System conducting rock fall analysis at Hoover Dam
Unmanned Aircraft System conducting rock fall analysis at Hoover Dam

Published on May 31, 2018