Overseas assignment gives AMRDEC researcher the chance to explore strength under pressure

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This column is the second in a series of articles profiling the work of defense science and technology personnel participating in the Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program, managed by the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for defense exports and cooperation. The program’s mission is to increase international collaboration in military research, development and acquisition, as well as to provide career-broadening work assignments for U.S. military and government defense personnel in foreign defense establishments.

by Mr. Adam Genest

We’ve all seen photos and videos of rocket and missile launches—hot, white flames emerging from a rocket pod, a launch stand or a missile tube as the rocket accelerates toward its target. While we focus a great deal of attention on what happens when that missile reaches its final destination, Army scientists are also concerned with the condition of the materials that are exposed to the forces and heat of the initial launch, especially since those materials are often used to launch additional rockets and missiles soon after their initial use.

Brittany Griffin, a mechanical engineer with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), recently traveled to Germany through the Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program (ESEP) to study the effects of thermal degradation—the breakdown of materials caused by exposure to heat, such as from the thrust of a rocket—on composite materials.

Assigned to the Bundeswehr Research Institute for Materials, Fuels and Lubricants in Erding, Germany, Griffin put to work her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Auburn University, as well as her experience with AMRDEC as a missile platform integration specialist. She sought to understand how compression and heat exposure damaged various composite materials.

Using infrared spectroscopy, a technique for studying the molecular structure of materials, Griffin assessed the damage to materials at the microscopic level after exposure to heat. She then compressed and twisted the materials to the point of failure. In this way, she could model how materials would respond to the rigors of supporting multiple missile and rocket launches in the field, enabling missile and rocket system developers to design hardware that could handle multiple launches without failing.

“My ESEP assignment was a great fit for me. I really enjoyed the work and the atmosphere,” said Griffin, who was in Germany from October 2016 through September 2017. “The project was directly applicable to the work I do at my home organization. Therefore, I had the opportunity to tailor my ESEP position into work that would be immediately beneficial to my programs and position at AMRDEC.” She normally studies system dynamics, vibration, shock and environmental effects on nonconventional materials (primarily as they apply to aviation components exposed to extreme stress).

Griffin, who was awarded a letter of commendation from the director of the German research facility for her work, experienced more than just the professional exposure of working in a foreign lab. “The benefits of ESEP are immeasurable,” she said. “Professionally, I had time to focus solely on research and gain experience that I could not have gotten at home. I made contacts that will be invaluable in the future. Personally, my husband and I got to experience living and traveling abroad; being able to travel easily in Europe was amazing.”

While most of the people in the lab spoke English, Griffin got to hone her German language skills away from work. “There are not many opportunities to actively practice German in Alabama,” she noted. “Personally, there were some difficulties, but for the most part there were funny misunderstandings. I accidently ordered the wrong pastry in bakeries more times than I can count. But it always worked out really well and was a great way to try new things.”

Now that Griffin is back in Alabama, she hopes to continue the collaborative work between AMRDEC and her German counterparts, as well as to maintain the friendships she made while staying in Erding.

The deputy assistant secretary of the Army for defense exports and cooperation (DASA(DE&C)), which manages ESEP, released the call for applicants in May, and there is still time to apply by contacting Allison Barry, ESEP program manager. Selected applicants will deploy overseas in October 2019.

For more information, contact Allison Barry at allison.j.barry.ctr@mail.mil or 703-614-3175.

ADAM GENEST is a strategic communications contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, providing contract support to the DASA(DE&C). He is a Master of Liberal Arts candidate at Harvard University, and he holds a Master of Forensic Science from George Washington University and a B.A. in homeland security and emergency preparedness from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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This article will be published in the July – September 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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