Picatinny pyrotechnics researchers gain synergy with West Point pact
August 16, 2011
By Mark Sanchez
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PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J., Aug. 16, 2011 -- At the United States Military Academy, Cadet James Raab, a chemistry major, has wanted a rounded and varied education.
"I study in the classroom. I read the books. I do the labs, but I don't actually see what a real chemist does, or how the Army uses chemistry," he said.
Meanwhile, at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., Jesse Sabatini, a research chemist in the Pyrotechnics Technology and Prototyping Division, saw the advantage of having a Soldier presence in his division to offer advice and input on the use of pyrotechnics in a combat setting.
Additionally, he wanted Picatinny to establish a stronger relationship with academy personnel located at West Point, N.Y.
"Anything that's going to bring the collaboration of ARDEC as a whole closer to the academy is great," he said. The pyrotechnics division is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC.
Both their wishes came true. From July 18 to Aug. 6, Raab and academy professor Col. Ronald Hann spent three weeks at Picatinny's Pyrotechnic Department as part of the Academic Individual Advanced Development, or AIAD, program. Under the program, cadets observe and perform scientific research in federal and private sector laboratories.
"This is really our first run in the AIAD," said Hann, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Life Sciences.
"Doctor Sabatini and I have been talking about this for a long time," Hann added. "We spent about two years trying to figure out what would be a good approach to doing a program like this."
The two years of discussion culminated with three weeks of study and collaboration. Each party said the program proved mutually beneficial, as each learned from the other.
Perhaps most importantly, the three main prototype formulations analyzed -- the M195 green light emitting parachute, the M159 white light emitting cluster and the M127 A1 white light emitting parachute -- all passed the initial tests.
The initial success of the program has encouraged Sabatini to support continued collaboration in the future and expand the involvement of other academic departments and other centers at ARDEC.
"I work in pyrotechnics, so obviously I would like to have a cadet or two a year come here," Sabatini said.
"But, if the experience this year will result in having chemical engineers and other cadets go into the propellant side, the explosive side or the acquisition side, that's great," he added.
AWAY FROM THE CLASSROOM
By performing real-world Army chemistry, Cadet Raab received a broader understanding of the nature of the work.
"What I've realized is that it takes a lot of dedication," Raab said.
"Being a chemist here, a lot of people just have their 9-to-5 jobs, but Doctor Sabatini seems to work on this outside, on his own time, and really just focuses a lot on his work," Raab explained. "I've realized it's not different from the Army, because in the Army your job never finishes. You go home, but at home you're still a Soldier. It's hard work, but that's why I chose it. I like the challenge."
The challenges before Raab, Sabatini and Hann involved battlefield illuminators. They researched and tested different color emitters for brightness and endurance. Additionally, they ran tests to ensure each pyrotechnic product was safe and effective for individual Soldiers as well as in battlefield operations.
"You don't want something that's going to decompose at 135 degrees of heat," Hann said. "Can it withstand the maximum temperature that it's expected to be exposed to?"
Raab was able to immerse himself in data analysis and studies immediately.
He noted which light burned the longest and which burned the brightest.
"We got to conduct sensitivity analysis and find out if it is safe to handle," he said. "I got to see the whole process, which was really cool."
During his time at Picatinny, Hann contributed to Sabatini's understanding of battlefield needs by offering a Soldier's perspective.
"You need to make sure that what you're handling is safe -- is it Soldier proof or not?" Hann said. "How will it react to static electricity, or if it bounces off a five-ton truck?"
To help civilian chemists in their research, Hann said a Soldier with first-hand experience can provided valuable feedback.
"We can provide some user input into what they're doing here," Hann said. "It's good to bring a guy like me in who's been in two deployments and used pyrotechnics in the field and ask the question -- was it green enough, does it burn enough, is this is the kind of thing that you're looking for, would it be useful on the battlefield -- a user input into the system at the basic level of research. That's tremendous."
The West Point professor also emphasized the importance of keeping Soldier safety in mind when developing products.
What's the likelihood of something going wrong if a Soldier drops a flare, or if a flare falls off a truck? Would it still work or accidentally explode?
"(With AIAD) we try and get our cadets out to see things somewhat different; things we can't replicate at the academy," Hann said.
"When they get out in the field and pick up a pyrotechnic device, they'll have a better understanding of what went into producing that device, so they can troubleshoot and find out what's going on with it."
"It's been an absolute pleasure having Cadet Raab and Colonel Hann here these three weeks," Sabatini explained. "It's exceeded my expectations."
He noted that Raab's knowledge of smoke grenades helped him greatly, particularly since it is an area that Sabatini is not familiar with.
"This partnership is great because of their contributions -- and they have made many," Sabatini said. "I will be listing them as coauthors on research manuscripts that I publish. I really like the amount of work on which we were able to collaborate."