REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Sept. 1, 2022) – If one is looking for a desk job or cube farm, look elsewhere.
Energetics is hands-on -- or gloves-on -- engineering. Propellants, pyrotechnics and explosives, utilized in weapon systems, can incorporate energetic materials -- chemicals that house both fuel and oxygen within their molecular structure.
Dr. Neili Loupe’s role as a chemist for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center is brainstorming the creative ideas that have not been done before, working with novel materials and new chemical structures that have not been tested, or tested with legacy materials, and coming up with “new ideas that could be incorporated into solid propellant to help extend the range or to decrease the time of flight,” she said. “And not just propellant, but also, looking for ways to use my knowledge of chemistry to possibly help other areas such as insulation, nozzle materials, or liners. Chemistry is the study of matter and has no bounds.”
Chemical Engineer Erin Wallace’s works on the formulation side of propellants, specifically high-performance propellant. Wallace works with experienced solid propellant subject matter experts and engineers, known as formulators, to test propellants while also studying and tracking those formulations and the materials used to determine how those materials hold up over time exposed to a wide range of temperatures.
“Sometimes we make a propellant that looks a little off,” Wallace said. “Do we have enough of this material to make it again? What if the program is extended and we run out of specific materials? Can we get that same material? But it won’t be the same lot number. Then you have to figure out if that changes the burning rate or mechanical properties.”
When discussing energetics that will be in the hands of Soldiers, one definitely wants to know if the mechanical properties change.
“It is critical to love this job,” Wallace said. “Because if you don’t, and aren’t giving it your wholehearted attention, it puts you and your coworkers in danger when safety isn’t your top priority. It is not a good fit if you don’t care about these things.”
DEVCOM AvMC has subject matter experts with a plethora of knowledge about the intricacies of energetics. As many of these experts near retirement age, it is paramount that the Army train the next generation of subject matter experts now.
“These people will retire and we will need to become them,” Loupe said. “They are not a dying breed – they are a retiring breed. I love that every day, I can come into work and soak in knowledge from these very experienced people.”
While both Loupe and Wallace have chemistry-related degrees, they work with engineers of all disciples. Instead of a specific pedigree, the career field needs people who are open to new challenges. Wallace came on board with a different division as an intern and within months found a mentor that recommended her tour Energetic Materials, where she was offered a full-time job. She is currently completing a master’s degree, fully funded by the Army. Loupe said to not let a lack of experience discourage anyone who is interested in the field of energetics.
“A common quality that the people we work with have is that they are capable of solving problems,” Loupe said. “They might not have all the answers, but they know where to look.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.
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