DAHLGREN, Va. - Electromagnetic railgun, unmanned systems, machine vision, modeling and simulation, additive manufacturing … and the realm of computer science.
Students from Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Arizona Tech, the University of Michigan, Old Dominion University, and the University of Texas at San Antonio are engaged with NSWC Dahlgren Division to study and research these technological programs under the Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC) program.
Since 2011, NSWC Dahlgren Division scientists and engineers have been working behind the scenes to provide the students and their professors with guidance and mentoring via NEEC.
Consequently, increasing numbers of university and college students across the country are graduating with a top-notch project-based education and naval engineering experience.
NSWCDD mentors are also supporting University of Virginia students engaged in materials research and Arizona State University students in their chemical and biological research.
The electromagnetic railgun is one of many examples of Dahlgren’s ongoing partnership and collaboration with a university on a key project.
In December 2015, Virginia Tech students fired the university's electromagnetic railgun for the first time as their U.S. Navy railgun advisers observed the demonstration on campus.
"Working in the Energy Conversion Systems Laboratory provided a unique out-of-the classroom college experience where I was able to apply my engineering education to solve real and complex challenges," said Virginia Tech student George Hric.
NSWCDD engineers advised their Virginia Tech protégés as the students – including Hric – worked on high power systems and project reviews throughout the electromagnetic railgun development cycle at a Virginia Tech laboratory. Hric has since graduated and currently works as a BAE Systems engineer working on the Columbia and Dreadnaught classes of nuclear ballistic-missile submarines.
"The NEEC program at Virginia Tech Railgun drastically shaped my career as an engineer and my ambitions as a person," said Hric, reflecting on his four years on the project during a Jan. 11 interview. "I give huge credit to the program for helping me develop a wide range of skills and practical engineering knowledge."
In all, the university's reduced-scale railgun program attracted and inspired over 150 students from all engineering disciplines to participate in hands-on research.
"The Virginia Tech electromagnetic railgun proved to be an effective recruiting opportunity," said John Wright, an NSWCDD senior engineer and the command's science, technology, engineering and mathematics coordinator. "The seven interns who joined our Pulsed Power Branch last summer significantly contributed to the development of the Navy's Railgun Program."
The collaboration began when NEEC and NSWC Dahlgren worked with Virginia Tech professor Hardus Odendaal and his graduate and undergraduate engineering students in their efforts to build a reduced-scale railgun with a novel energy recovery feature.
"The quality of the research aspect cannot be overstated," said Odendaal, an electrical and computer engineering professor specializing in electromagnetics. "Almost every aspect of the railgun system, from the simplest mechanical part to the most complex, such as the circuits for the custom fiber-optic-isolated networked-data-acquisition system printed circuit boards had to be designed, developed, built, and tested from the ground up, including software development."
Virginia Tech has developed both a conventional electromagnetic railgun circuit and a novel one that may improve operational efficiencies. The conventional capabilities of Virginia Tech's railgun were proven at the demonstration, according to university and NSWCDD officials. Testing of the new concept circuit just started and will continue through 2017.
"The experience students gain at Virginia Tech working on relevant railgun work is directly applicable to the skill sets we need to transition this technology into a reality for the Navy," said Chris Reichart, NSWCDD Pulsed Power Branch head. "The Virginia Tech students and new hires joining us contribute right away with very little ramp up required."
Students studying electromagnetic railgun technology at Virginia Tech represent a diversity of degree programs, including electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, civil and environmental engineering, industrial and systems engineering, aerospace and ocean engineering, engineering science and mechanics, computer engineering, chemistry, and geography.
"Each student worked a minimum of 10 hours per week as part of a multidisciplinary team to conduct research, design and assemble parts, lay out circuit boards and test controls, program digital controllers, or produce animations, among other tasks," said Wright. "Students working on the project have designed the railgun projectile catch, a vacuum flash chamber, gate drivers, control system, health monitoring system, and the railgun startup and power-down procedures."
This project-based education that provides naval engineering experience on technical programs such as electromagnetic railgun to students is a vital aspect of the NEEC Consortium.
NEEC will increase the number of students who graduate with an accredited degree; provide world-class faculty specialized in naval engineering; coordinate employee development opportunities to retain naval engineering talent for the Navy; and increase the availability of naval engineering education programs and courses across universities and colleges.